“Nurses are the real heroes,” says Albanian doctor in the front line of COVID-19 response


Entela Kolovani is a doctor in Tirana, Albania and currently works with patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Entela Kolovani.
Entela Kolovani is a doctor in Tirana, Albania and currently works with patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Entela Kolovani.

Entela Kolovani has been serving as a physician for 23 years at the hospital of infectious diseases in Tirana, Albania. Her work is in the limelight these days, as she treats patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Our routine has changed, and this new routine has quickly become the norm. Treating patients with COVID-19 is very hard, each one with their own unique needs. We are dealing not only with the virus, but also with the psychological impact it has on patients. They are totally isolated from their families and we need to stay the closest possible to them,” says Dr. Kolovani.

She has been in the front line of COVID-19 response since 9 March when the first two cases were identified in Albania. Since then, the number of people infected has risen to over 361.

Women are playing a key role—often disproportionate to men—in responding to the disease, as frontline healthcare workers, as well as care givers at home.Experience of other disease outbreaks shows that they have the highest risk to be infected. Almost 12 per cent of Albania’s reported cases of coronavirus have been health workers, but no fatalities have been reported yet.

“One of our biggest challenges is to see colleagues and friends we work with every day becoming ill with COVID-19. Another challenge is how to make sure that more patients recover quickly so that we don’t overwhelm our health facilities,” explains Dr. Kolovani.

All medical staff at the hospital are working longer hours, she says, “but the nurses are the real heroes.”

“They carry out the most difficult tasks and most of the workload. Nurses, most of whom are women, are our greatest supporters, working endless shifts with special protective equipment on, which is very hard to keep on while working. Their work never ends, from making up the beds of patients, to performing therapies, taking tests and filling in documents. I am so deeply grateful to them.”

In Europe, 84 per cent of nurses are women, and globally one in five women is employed in the care sector.

Dr. Kolovani hasn’t seen her two sons since the pandemic hit the country. Her older son lives abroad, while her 11-year old son is now living with her sister.

“Since both me and my husband work at the same hospital and do the same job, the risk of infection for our son and other family members is very high,” she explains. “My son misses us a lot, it’s his first time away from us… when we get back from the hospital, the house is empty. But it is better this way, keeping the distance to avoid infecting your loved ones.”

The coronavirus pandemic has put unprecedented strain on families, especially when partners are working in health or other essential services. Dr. Kolovani and her husband cannot make time for each other as a couple; every waking hour is consumed by the virus.

Globally, women do three times as much unpaid care work as men. In Albania, women spend 8.5 hours daily on unpaid care and domestic work in households with young children, as compared to less than 1 hour spent by men. With all but essential services under lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, the burgeoning care burden has landed largely on women.

Dr. Kolovani is among the few women who have a supportive partner who shares the care work. “He fully understands my position and what I have been going through and has been very supportive since the beginning,” she says about her husband. “We share the chores in our home.”

“In coordination with the UN system in Albania, UN Women is helping to address the current emergency in the country, including by leveraging its existing programmes, conducting a rapid gender assessment of the impact of COVID-19, and by mobilizing the media to report on the specific needs of women,” says Michele Ribotta, UN Women Representative in Albania.

“Addressing the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on women, including the increased care burden and economic shock, is crucial for effective response and recovery,” he adds.

Recently, UNICEF, ILO and UN Women launched new guidance on family-friendly policies and other good workplace practices in the context of COVID-19, which calls for a range of measures to support working families.

Around the world, UN Women is supporting women in the front line of COVID-19 response by addressing their immediate needs, building their resilience and making sure their voices and experiences shape decisions.

Support women in the front lines by making a donation to UN Women at http://unwo.men/eAmt50yVA0g 

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In Focus: Gender equality in COVID-19 response