Belgian home nurse battles on multiple fronts as coronavirus spreads

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – After visiting about 20 chronically ill patients in a day, Hajar Atila, a Belgian home nurse, leaves her clothes in her garage and takes a shower before stepping into her home and cuddling her children.

Hajar Atila, a Belgian home nurse, takes care of her patient Anna Edith Slepicka at her home during the coronavirus lockdown imposed by the Belgian government in an attempt to slow down the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Brussels, Belgium March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The precautions, which also include a high-temperature wash for her work outfit each day, are to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus to her family.

Belgium has reported nearly 4,300 infections and 122 deaths as the disease spreads around Europe.

With hospitals discharging patients who would normally be hospitalized to free up beds for coronavirus patients, the country’s 32,000 home nurses are coming under increasing pressure.

Atila, who manages Infirmiere Nursante, a home nursing care company employing 8 people in Brussels, said the new normal is juggling protective equipment shortages and contamination risks with calls to pharmacies and runs to supermarkets for the patients isolated at home.

“We are afraid for our families, for our patients, we are afraid of precipitating their death because they are fragile, sometimes in palliative care,” Atila, 30, told Reuters.

“It’s not just about showering our patients. It’s doing insulin injections, sometimes dialysis, sometimes chemotherapy, antibiotic therapy. Sometimes, we are the only visit in the day of an elderly person,” she said.

Most of the people she cares for are elderly, making them most vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus, and some have no family to visit them.

Because of high exposure to coronavirus and the lack of adequate protection, health professionals account for four percent of confirmed cases of the coronavirus Belgium, a spokesman for the health ministry told reporters on Tuesday.

Faced with equipment shortages, a federation of hospitals and care homes for Belgium’s regions of Brussels and Wallonia, known as Santhea, called for private donations.

“The first emergency is the personal protective equipment: protective gowns, protective glasses, overshoes and of course masks,” said Valerie Victoor of Santhea.

Some are heeding the call.

Audrey Jacques, an artist and stylist who has been stuck at home since Belgium introduced a virtual lockdown on March 18, has spent time producing homemade masks.

“It is our job. If we can help we are also here for that, it keeps us busy and helps those around us,” Jacques said.

Reporting by Marine Strauss; Editing by Gabriela Baczynska and Mike Collett-White

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