This Kerala nurse who fought Nipah virus is now treating COVID-19 patients in the Gulf

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A 25-year-old nurse from Kozhikode, KT Kamarunissa, decided to fly to the Gulf to treat COVID-19 patients and achieve her ambition to become a frontline paramedic.

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KT Kamarunissa’s soft voice does not betray her iron will. The 25-year-old nurse from the small town of Vadakara in Kozhikode district is currently in the United Arab Emirates to treat COVID-19 patients and fight a pandemic that is saddling healthcare systems across the globe. 

Kamarunissa is part of a team of 105 specialist paramedics who were flown in from Kerala on Tuesday, to tackle the pandemic crisis in the UAE. However, what is different about the 25-year-old is that she has a history of fighting highly contagious viruses. 

Back in 2018, when Kamarunissa was barely a year into her job, she was part of a team of nurses who treated a 10-year-old boy in Kozhikode’s District Co-operative hospital. The boy later tested positive for Nipah virus and went on to survive the deadly infection, which has claimed 17 lives in Kerala. 

“I really did not do much. My colleagues and I stabilised the boy and treated him as a suspected case of Nipah virus. Within the next two days, he tested positive and by then, we had treated and referred him to the Kozhikode Medical College hospital where they dealt with Nipah patients. Besides that, I don’t have experience working in a Nipah isolation ward or government hospital,” Kamarunissa says, brushing the topic aside. 

However, it is her experience fighting an emergent virus early on in her career that has now led the 25-year-old to the shores of the UAE, this time to battle a virus that has brought the world to a standstill. Ever since she treated the Nipah patient, Kamarunissa, who is a trained Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse, knew her interest lay in frontline medical intervention and crisis care. 

“The Nipah experience sparked an interest in me which I wished to pursue. Today, everybody is scared of the pandemic. It is a virus that has infected millions globally. As a nurse, if I too sit at home in fear, then my experience and training as a healthcare worker become meaningless,” she adds. 

On May 19, the Vadakara native flew along with 104 other specialist paramedics, including radiologists and respiratory therapists, to UAE’s capital city, Abu Dhabi. The team was recruited as part of a pandemic crisis mission by VPS healthcare group, a chain of hospitals in the Gulf, which is currently caring for COVID-19 patients. 

While the journey from Kerala to Abu Dhabi might have been a short one, for Kamarunissa – a young mother – it was a huge leap towards achieving her career goals, despite social pressures and responsibilities as a parent. 

There is the distance, homesickness and fear of getting infected every single day. But the 25-year-old says that the only difficulty she faces is being separated from her six-year-old girl, a choice she made for the sake of her career. 

Very often, young mothers are forced to choose between careers and motherhood or are conditioned to prioritise the former over other interests. However, Kamarunissa says that she opted to see her career take off, come what may, by signing up to fight the pandemic. Her family, too, came around and supported her decision later.

“Sitting in Kerala, I knew I would not be able to treat COVID-19 patients. So when the VPS recruitment came up, I spoke to my friends in the medical field who encouraged me to sign up. I had a month to convince my family and they did not have any objections in the end. My daughter has now adjusted to my absence,” she adds. 

The 25-year-old and her colleagues will be divided into teams and will serve in COVID-19 wards in various hospitals across Abu Dhabi. They will care for COVID-19 patients for the next six months in the Gulf. 

“I am happy. This is exactly what I wanted to do and here I am now,” she says.


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