Experience in managing COVID-19 patients: Mulago, Uganda

April 23, 2020

If you’re finding it hard to stay home right now, imagine how it would feel to be a doctor or nurse. Health care workers don’t have the luxury of holding up in their homes to shield themselves from the coronavirus. They have to expose themselves to the risk, and some are separating themselves from their families for weeks to avoid transmitting the virus to them.

The experience of treating those infected with COVID-19 from Mulago specialised Hospital has left a profound impression on me.

My experience in other outbreaks like Ebola, Marburg, Cholera and Rift Valley Fever, has helped me strengthen my skills and knowledge especially in infection prevention and control.

I know exactly how it feels to suddenly find yourself up close to — and unprotected from — a deadly virus. While COVID-19 isn’t as deadly as Ebola, I am drawing on my experiences in other epidemics to help other nurses cope with the unprecedented fear and uncertainty of a pandemic that is now killing doctors and nurses on the frontlines in Asia and Europe.

Nurses confide in me. They send me messages, others pull me aside to ask: Is it OK to be afraid? To consider not showing up for work?

I don’t hesitate to respond.

“It’s really important that we continue to tell them that they have nothing to be guilty about, that they are not lesser nurses because of it.”

“If we were adequately supplied and protected, the terror would be much less.” 


The making of a COVID-19 nurse

When the COVID-19 crisis emerged, I was eager to sign up.

“It wasn’t even necessarily a conscious decision, it was almost this frenetic drive of … ‘I can do this work, I can help.’ ”

When the first case of COVID-19 arrived in the Mulago hospital, I trained my colleagues to navigate the dangers of COVID-19. I taught them not to cross their arms or touch their face, how to wear masks and hooded suits and the precise the way to take off the hooded suits and knee-high rubber boots.

Health care workers are at higher risk of infection from the coronavirus than the general population. Already in Europe dozens of them have died.

Those who treat COVID-19 patients carry a terrible foresight. They know exactly what could happen if they are the ones who end up in the isolation unit.

“It is a nightmare, should we become sick, we know the prognosis.”

That doesn’t stop me from going to work and treating my patients.

But I also tell any nurse or doctor who comes in search of advice that the reward for helping others should never be your own life.

“The most important person is yourself, period, full stop, the end, because if you die, you will not be able to take care of anyone else.”


Nicholas Ssali