NURSE and midwife, Ntombizotwa Makhozonke Mamonica Mokhesi, has taken it upon herself to sensitise women about the use of contraceptives with condoms on top of her list.
This, she says, is cognisant of the health dangers that come with having multiple sexual partners, a practice that has largely become acceptable in Lesotho.
The 2014 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) states that “5 percent of young women and 23 percent of young men report having multiple sexual partners”.
Alarmed by these statistics, Ms Mokhesi vowed to spare at least an hour daily to educate women on different social media platforms about the dangers of multiple sex partners and how that could endanger one’s health.
The Sefako Makgato Health Sciences Masters in Public Health Student fears that most of the women who are engaging in unprotected sex have also fueled the high demand for illegal abortion services in the country.
Illegal abortion in Lesotho is rife, with dire health complications like unnecessary maternal mortality with the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying “every 8 minutes a woman in a developing nation dies of complications arising from an unsafe abortion”.
In a country where the maternal mortality rate is 1 024 deaths for 100 000 live births as per the 2014 DHS, Ms Mokhesi knew that waiting for people to come knocking at health facilities was not enough.
The 28-year-old Scott Hospital staffer said sparing an hour daily to sensitise Basotho about the dangers of abortion has helped empower the communities with knowledge.
The world commemorates the International Day of Midwife and Ms Mokhesi’s on Saturday and her determination to educate the nation resonates with this year’s theme: Midwives leading the way with quality care’.
The commemorations highlight the role that midwives play to ensuring that women and their newborns navigate pregnancy and childbirth safely. They also advocate that mothers and newly born babies receive respectful and well-resourced maternal care that can create a lifetime of good health and wellbeing beyond the childbirth continuum.
“We are still using a curative model and that is not working because we wait for patients to come when we are supposed to use a preventative model,” Ms Mokhesi said.
“I took it upon myself to spare at least an hour every day to educate Basotho on a hot topic on social media.”
She said social media was an important tool that the medical fraternity must employ to reach millions of people in the comfort of their homes.
She argues that people are more likely to heed a call to visit their doctors when the messages are delivered on a platform that they are comfortable with.
“Why should I be selfish and only serve people when they come to my place of work? People are dying because of this curative model that we are using, which is relatively too expensive for the country as well,” she said.
She said her strategy of sensitising people has yielded positive results as she does not deny people the opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions.
Ms Mokhesi further indicated that in most cases her educational Facebook posts trigger critical questions in her inbox that often warrant one to urgently seek medical attention.
“If the government was to ask me for advice, I would tell them that healing is expensive so. Let us invest in the public health. People do not know what is happening with their health and those small signs that they dismiss, make them vulnerable to serious diseases,” she said.
Ms Mokhesi said in one Facebook group, there are over 13 000 members most of whom communicate freely about their multiple sex partners, abortions and other life-threatening issues that need to be addressed urgently.
She said stakeholders also need to use the media to communicate their messages which are critical to turn around the healthcare system.
Ms Mokhesi said the government must consider employing a ‘media nurse’ whose sole responsibility would be empowering people with knowledge and decrease the number of cases that are taken to the healthcare facilities when it is already late.
The National University of Lesotho graduate says both nursing and teaching run in her blood.
She says the decision to sensitise the public about ignoring pertinent danger signs was inspired by her motto: ‘I gave up my life to learn how to save yours’.
Having lost both her parents at a tender age, Ms Mokhesi made a conscious decision that she would use her nursing knowledge to save lives even outside the call of duty.
“I am an only child and unfortunately when I was eight my father, who worked at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security died and at 10, I also lost my mother,” she said.
“My uncle took me in and raised me. Growing up in the streets of Naleli, in Maseru, I admired the way nurses dressed and wanted to be one. After completing my Cambridge Overseas School Certificate, I could do anything I desired because I was in the top 10 and qualified for every course but I chose nursing because I have always wanted to be a nurse.”
Undeterred by her lecturers and family’s pressure to study anything but not nursing, Ms Mokhesi gently made them realise that nursing was her life.
Even today, when the nursing career is constantly under fire for poor health services offered by facilities across the country, the former Maseru High School student has no regrets for her choice.
“It all comes back to the real reason why you are in the profession and I am in the profession to serve people and save lives. I am driving towards change because I think Basotho deserve better,” Ms Mokhesi said.
Her efforts in driving change were recognised in 2017 when the Lesotho Nursing Council nominated her for a Leading Light Award offered by the International Council of Nurses (ICN).
She won the award for her efforts in sensitising her colleagues at Scott Hospital about the importance of accepting tuberculosis (TB) – one of the leading causes of death in Lesotho – patients the minute they are diagnosed with the disease.
She said the decision to sensitise her colleagues was inspired by the realisation that TB patients were struggling to fit into the society and that the situation was worsened by health professionals.
The ICN said Ms Mokhesi trained nurses, medical staff, cleaners, nursing students, drivers, kitchen staff and others about the pathophysiology of TB, universal precautions and proper use of personal protective equipment like N95 respirators and surgical masks. This, the ICN said, was because staff members (medical and non- medical) and nursing students failed to use N95 respirators properly.
“After her training on infection control, staff now wear N95 respirators appropriately and coughing patients and those with TB are asked to wear surgical masks. As a result, more nurses feel confident to work with TB patients than before,” ICN said on its website.
But her determination was not her doing alone, she was inspired by one Matron Boqokoane whom she worked under at the Tebellong District Hospital in Qacha’s Nek.
Reminiscing about Matron Boqokoane’s life lessons, Ms Mokhesi said the old lady encouraged her never to treat patients badly no matter the prevailing circumstances.
Ms Mokhesi said the matron made them understand that treating patients right was not for the good of such patients but for the nurses.
“She would say: “You are not doing it for me, the hospital or the patient. You are doing it for your own good”. I never really understood what she meant until recently when my husband and I had a puncture,” she said.
“We were driving from Mapoteng where we had gone to pick our children when we hit a pothole somewhere in Khubetsoana and had a puncture. We drove to Nutri-foods and we met this young man whose life we saved. He had gravely endangered his life but we fought for his life and he lived.”
The minute Ms Mokhesi and her family stepped out of the car, her patient came rushing and told everyone how the young woman had saved his life.
In return for what she did, the man told everyone to step aside and changed the tyre.
“That is when Matron Boqokoane’s teachings made sense.”
But it has not been all rosy for the Mapoteng bride as she has had her own difficult pregnancy.
“I suffered from prenatal depression. I spent my entire pregnancy working at the hospital but no one realised that I was suffering from depression. I even fought at work. I was the lucky one because I have seen a nursing mother and her child leaving the hospital perfectly well and only for them to die because of mental health,” Ms Mokhesi said.