Dr Runa Jha is the Chief Pathologist and Director at the National Public Health Laboratory in Nepal, which is linked with 277 government laboratories across the country and is the only lab authorized to conduct COVID-19 testing. Jha, along with 67 team members, is playing a crucial role in the front-line response to COVID-19.
For us, it all started when 175 Nepali students were brought back to Nepal from Wuhan, China. The flight arrived on 15 February, and my team was the first to enter the quarantine facility on 16 February.
My team did not hesitate to volunteer to take samples. Some of my team members are as young as 21, and some have babies at home, but all of them were ready. We worked the whole night and produced 175 reports the following day.
Since then, our entire focus has shifted to testing samples for COVID-19 and our routine services have stopped. It is quite a challenging time for us. In many other countries, they have well-established labs with experienced scientists who have spent almost an entire life in the field. Nepal has limited resources, but we are trying hard.
We usually get 60 to 70 samples a day for COVID-19 testing… Also, the samples arrive at irregular intervals. This makes us work late hours.
For me, as a Director, staying late at the lab has become the norm. In addition to the technical work, I also have to manage logistics, such as arranging transportation and food for my team. It is a challenging time for us, and I have to keep them motivated. I talk to them whenever I sense they are feeling down. I tell them their safety is our priority.
Things have changed in my personal life too. I have sent away my daughter with my husband to our hometown, Janakpur, which is away from my duty station in Kathmandu. Since then, I have been living in my apartment alone.
My parents live just 2 kilometres away, and I used to visit them three times a week, but it has been almost three weeks that I haven’t seen them.
My daughter calls me and tells me how much she misses me. I miss my family too, but I fear to risk their lives; therefore, keeping a distance is vital.
My mother calls me and says ‘Come home, we are already old, don’t worry about us. All we want is to see you.’
I want to hug my daughter and take care of my parents, but this sacrifice needs to be made to keep them and others safe.”
Globally, women makeup 70 per cent of workers in the health and social sector and are at the front lines of COVID-19 response. Forty-two-year-old Dr Runa Jha and her team are front-line responders to COVID-19 in Nepal. She talks to UN Women about the personal sacrifices and tireless work it involves and asks for public support.
Source: UN Women