Whilst many of our staff have resorted to remote working, some are at the frontline ensuring continuity of health service delivery and supporting the implementation of the national response to COVID-19. For the last two months, Rebecca Ayanga, a health trainer at Living Goods and more than a dozen other staff have been supporting the Ministry of Health Emergency Call Centres. Whether she is working a day or night shift, Rebecca has to create time to prepare for her family before heading out.
How has been your experience so-far and what does your work involve?
It is fulfilling to coordinate calls from the whole country, and a responsibility to be the source of information and a link between the community and different services. My role involves counselling and educating the public about health and COVID-19, and coordinating transport evacuations for patients—especially pregnant women—to get to health facilities.
On average, how many phone calls do you attend to on a daily basis?
I attend to about 40 calls a day. Many of the callers want to get more information about COVID-19, how to access medical services, details about the lockdown or to report suspected cases of COVID-19. Recently, we have also been receiving domestic violence related calls and have had to counsel couples about co-existing during these challenging times, and advise them on where to report such cases.
What’s the one call that stands out for you so far and what was it about?
One night I received a call from a husband whose wife was having labour pains but had no means of transport to take her to the hospital for delivery. I coordinated with the ambulance services of Kampala Capital City Authority to take her to Mulago hospital where she delivered by C-section. The husband called me the next morning to thank me, wondering what would have happened to his wife if he had not gotten means of transport.
Another time, a man (who did not have any COVID-19 symptoms) was forced to present himself to Mulago hospital for quarantine because he worked with people who had recently returned from Dubai. Because of anxiety and fear of the unknown, he started to experience difficulty in breathing and blacked out en route to the hospital. Good Samaritans called asking for a way forward. I called the village chairperson (his contact was on the letter he had issued) and later the gentleman when he regained consciousness. He went back home to practice self-quarantine. From follow-up calls, I learnt that the man never developed any COVID-19 symptoms. This is a clear case of lack of awareness about COVID transmission and fear in the community. It almost cost this man his life!
How is your family coping with your new working schedule and the involved risks?
My family has been cautious of any disease, especially if the symptoms are similar to those of COVID-19. They fear that I might contract and transfer diseases to them since I’m the only one who goes out. But I take care to ensure this does not happen, by keeping physical distance, using PPE where necessary and sanitising my hands regularly when at work. We have also had to adjust how we spend family time, because I sometimes have to work night shifts.
What challenges have you faced while working at the call centre, and would you do this kind of work again?
I feel frustrated when I’m not able to help patients due to unavailability of the necessary contacts/information. Sometimes callers insult and abuse us out of frustration, when they do not get the help they need. It has also been challenging to adjust to working nightshifts. However, I would do this again because, as a medical practitioner, it is my calling to save lives. It is very fulfilling to serve my country especially at a challenging time like now. At first, I had fear because so little was known about corona, but interacting with my colleagues at the call centre gave me courage. I feel so proud of my organisation Living Goods for giving me a chance to serve at such a critical time. Some people call back to thank us for supporting them and that motivates me.