Covid-19 a major threat to third-world nations, Chch nurse says

Nicole Smit volunteers as a nurse in Uganda. Photo: Supplied
Nicole Smit volunteers as a nurse in Uganda. Photo: Supplied
Christchurch nurse Nicole Smit was lucky to return home from Uganda before the lockdown in NZ - but has grave concerns over the African nation's ability to manage Covid-19.

After spending six weeks working in the slums of a country with a fragile healthcare system, she says Covid-19 could spread through Uganda like "wildfire".

At 28, the former Villa Maria College student has travelled to Uganda three times for aid work to make a difference to the health of poverty-stricken families.

The volunteer nurse has been in self-isolation since she returned to Christchurch on March 15 - just after the Government announced all international travellers arriving in NZ must self-isolate for 14 days.

Miss Smit said while she wants to help people in Uganda as much as she can, she is happy to be safe in NZ.

"I think if there were to be a massive outbreak like there has been around the world, I think they would definitely struggle.

"Their population is just outrageous," she said.

As of Thursday, Uganda had 44 cases of Covid-19 but no deaths.

"Even in Italy and China and places where the health system is established they have struggled," Miss Smit said.

"I can only imagine what it would be like in a third-world country."

In spite of her concerns, she says there were some measures in place while she was in Uganda to protect the community from Covid-19.

Nicole Smit is ready to help people with Covid-19. Photo: Supplied
Nicole Smit is ready to help people with Covid-19. Photo: Supplied
While she didn't work in its hospitals to witness the measures they had in place, Uganda closed all schools and stopped all religious gatherings before they had any confirmed cases.

On March 22, Uganda acted quickly after its first Covid-19 case, closing its borders to keep the virus out.

But during her time overseas and in the slums of Uganda, Miss Smit said teaching children about the importance of hand-washing and drinking clean water is not given the same priority as it is in NZ.

"It is just not taught over there," Miss Smit said.

"Their living conditions are very substantive - they are very susceptible to germs.

"They live around dirt and there is not always clean water so it is understandable why they get sick so often."

She said children are not taught to cough into their hands and will wipe their noses on their clothing.

"It is no wonder all the kids get sick because it just spreads around," Miss Smit said.

She is especially worried about Ugandans living in low socio-economical areas.

"I am sure some of those people may not even know what is happening.

"They are quite isolated and there is no social media or television," she said.

Miss Smit fell in love with Uganda after she travelled there to volunteer as a nurse for the first time in 2017. She immediately wanted to return after coming home.

Before her first trip, she studied a Bachelor of Nursing and worked as a registered nurse for nearly three years in the South Island Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Christchurch Hospital.

Since then she has split her time between Uganda and working for a nursing agency in Australia to gain some different experience and skills.

Miss Smit originally planned to go back to Australia, but due to the Covid-19 crisis, she is now looking for work in Christchurch.

She has registered her interest to work as a nurse, supporting patients with Covid-19.

"I have spent a lot of time around contagious diseases over there (in Uganda)...not too much fazes me anymore," Miss Smit said.

As for self-isolation, she said it "hasn't been too bad".

"I still walk the dog, talk to my friends, FaceTime is getting a hammering...getting a bit of life admin done which is quite good," Miss Smit said.






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