PHNOs, the unsung heroes and heroines during COVID-19 outbreak, says NCCP | Sunday Observer

PHNOs, the unsung heroes and heroines during COVID-19 outbreak, says NCCP

12 April, 2020

While the coronovirus continues to swirl around us, many Public Health Nursing Officers (PHN0) continue to perform their duties daily without a break even when exhausted. As Community Cancer Physician Dr Suraj Perera from the National Cancer Control Program (NCCP ) told the Sunday Observer , “They are the real heroes and heroines in the NCCP’s efforts to help both cancer patients and all other patients with chronic illnesses to get the best nursing care during the COVID 19 outbreak”.

He said the work of these unsung heroes and heroines covered a wide range of duties performed at the risk of their own health, taking them to distant COVID high risk areas in various parts of the country. A bunch of photos of the nursing officers taken while at work in their different sites which Dr Perera sent us proved his point. Pointing to one particular nursing officer Seneka Randeniya, who had been conducting an educational class on COVID he said , “He has been at his job from 8 am to 6 pm . He looked exhausted and when I asked him if he was tired, which I could tell by his drawn expression and sweat drenched shirt, he simply smiled and said quietly, “Yes I am tired sir. But how can I stop if I know that even one person who may be at risk of this disease has been left out as these people come only when they have finished their daily home chores? If I give up half way I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night thinking I have not done my job properly”.


Other pictures showing these nursing officers sharing their knowledge in the awareness raising programs conducted within and outside district and provincial hospital complexes such as the Beligala District Hospital and Weeraketiya Hospital were equally an eye opener. They showed residents in the vicinity in their everyday clothes, listening attentively to the message given, as the nursing officers told them what the COVID 19 disease was, how it spread and how to prevent it with simple easy to follow rules such as washing hands the correct way which they demonstrated with available tools such as a basin of water, a wayside tap, a jug. The venues for most part were informal settings - under shady trees or hospital corridors with residents seated on a few benches, plastic chairs, mats, or simply standing.


The pictures also illustrated the humane aspect of their approach to treating patients, such as giving palliative care to patients in home settings, wound care in home setting, even administering insulin to diabetic patients in their own homes. Pictures of preparation of drugs for distribution and distribution of clinic drugs in home settings also gave a new insight to viewers and readers on the work behind the screen of these nursing officers.


Listing the duties they were expected to carry out daily, Dr Perera said that health educational programs on passing correct information to the public living in COVID high risk areas as well as those with chronic illnesses were a priority as there were many myths surrounding the disease and many were still in the dark on what the disease was. Besides this are, Palliative care , wound care , preparation of drugs for distribution, and distribution of clinic, drugs in home settings as well as preparing Personal Protective Equipment ( PPE) for patients.

“What we found to be the most satisfying aspect of the program to control COVID , is the fact that we were able to work as a team. Everyone involved worked together to share their knowledge, disseminate information and as far as possible help both cancer patients as well as all patients with non communicable diseases”, he said.

He added that guidelines for Public Health Nursing Officers had also been issued by the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medicine during the COVID 19 outbreak.

History of the disease

The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic is an ongoing pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The outbreak was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in December 2019. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30, 2020 and recognized it as a pandemic on March 11, 2020. As of April, 2020, more than 932,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in over 200 countries.

In Sri Lanka since the first case was discovered in a foreign national in January this year, the number of positive cases stands at 185 and 6 deaths at the time of going to press.Recovery rates have risen to 38.

Over 30 district and teaching hospitals and base hospitals, as well as the IDH, the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, Lady Ridgeway Hospital, Mulleriyawa hospital, Castle Street Hospital for women, Chest Hospital Welisara and Kotalawela Defence Hospital are listed as sentinel hospitals to admit suspected cases with the addition of army and navy health facilities and police hospitals.

Meanwhile a new fast track package with World Bank aid for the COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project in Sri Lanka is expected to help the country prevent, detect, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen its public health preparedness, and benefit the entire Sri Lankan population by prioritising stopping or slowing the spread of the virus, reducing case numbers, and preventing outbreaks in communities a recent statement in the media has said. It reportedly added that this support will scale up emergency response mechanisms, strengthen the capacity of laboratories and hospitals, treat patients, train medical staff, and raise public awareness about hand washing, hygiene, and social distancing.