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On International Nurses’ Day, Let’s Thank Our Unsung S(heroes)

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

As India swerves into its second wave of Covid, the population manages to thank its nurses over social media on the occasion of International Nurses’ Day, while the healthcare infrastructure and its frontline warriors face a dilemma of their own. Even though doctors, in every way possible, are able to speak up for themselves and the crisis they now face with regards to healthcare resources and immediate facilities required, there is no voice, however, to shed light over the urgent predicament that nurses all over India are facing, even as we speak.

It would become a critical need of the hour if only enough discussion was laid upon the conditions of nurses in India, who right now are more than exhausted, mentally as well as physically, fighting a global battle that seems to be never-ending, while having no real security of their own. To shed some light on this issue, we could start off by addressing the already ignorant plight of nurses all over India, when it comes to their income sources, even before the pandemic had arrived.

Although well-known, it is hardly an issue for the Indian population that an army that trains rigorously for four years on primary healthcare, receives hardly Rs 15,000-20,000 per month in the present day, be it in the government or private hospitals. To add to this underpaid scenario, are the exhausting work conditions, which are highly unbalanced with 12-hour continuous shifts and rarely any breaks for the nurses to even catch a breath.

Health Worker
The attack on doctors, nurses and paramedics in our country disheartens and angers every law-abiding citizen of this country.

Now, this was prior to the Covid arriving in the country. Under the present scenario, with India only entering the second wave, the condition of nurses has already turned deplorable. For the same amount of income, now nurses are working for both morning and night shifts on most days, with hardly any time to go home and take some rest.

To add to this, they are required to stay in their PPE kits for the entire duration of the shifts, which makes it even impossible to take bathroom breaks (which also includes not being able to change their sanitary pads on time), eat, drink, or even take their kits off in case they are sweating profusely. These PPE kits are worn meticulously for more than 12 hours, which also restrict the nurses’ movements, who are supposed to be at the disposal of their patients under any emergency.

Although we have all become aware of the shortage of hospital beds and oxygen cylinders during this second wave, only the nurses witness it first hand everyday as they are usually appointed in a ward with 40 beds and only 2 nurses to check up on these 40 patients, sometimes on both shifts. As the nurses report- the beds are never empty, and as soon as a patient is discharged, another one fills up the space.

Along with taking the primary care of the patient which include feeding, cleaning and checking for their oxygen and medicines regularly, the nurses also have to keep up with the maintenance of death records and informing the families and the police in case of such incidents. With their health being compromised to such drastic levels, the nurses have no choice but to adhere to the rules set for them by the hospitals.

This is only the physical exhaustion that has been recorded from nurses all over India. The emotional and mental trauma and exhaustion that follows the same is not even recorded in any space whatsoever, because there is hardly any platform for them to voice their concerns or to reach out to the masses while taking care of patients during a pandemic. Witnessing, recording and remembering deaths on a personal

Image of two nurses on duty in a coronavirus ward
Representational image.

level everyday, and still waking up in the morning and putting on one’s uniform requires an enormous amount of courage and strength.

 

Our nurses are doing the same, even as we speak, as most of them report that they witness at least one death during a 12-hour shift. As affectionate caregivers, they generally form a warm bond with the patients that they look after. To watch the same patients pass away in front of their eyes on a daily basis and feeling helpless because they give their best every single time – is a form of post traumatic stress that can only be found during and after wars. The important question here is — who is accounting for this psychological trauma? Is there a way to cope their already aggrieved state of mind here, so that they do not carry on this trauma silently for the rest of their lives?

Yet, every single day, they gather every ounce of energy to provide the best care to their patients, thereby putting their own health second. Even during vaccination, they are the same nurses who singlehandedly administer thousands of vaccines to citizens each day but fail to receive the same vaccination for themselves and their families on time.

However, with the second wave recording such a huge number of deaths per day, most nurses have admitted to losing their courage and strength to work and wish to resign from their job that they have been doing for such a long time. It is indeed, a matter of serious concern for India, as an integral part of its frontline warriors is on the verge of losing their physical and mental strength to help fight Covid. To make matters worse, India is already on a shortage of caregivers and doctors alike, with another two lakh nurses being required already to fight Covid in the year to come. Under such circumstances, one can only wonder how the country would stand during the third wave.

For an army that fights painstakingly each day without being given the respect and remuneration that they rightly deserve, nurses indeed have proven to be caregivers of the highest order today. It is high time that they are thanked not just on social media or over papers, but given the due recognition and place in society that has been long overdue. Perhaps, simply addressing them as “frontline warriors” is not enough today; it is time that they are treated the same.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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