COVID-19 (Coronavirus): ADB Information Centre

Female healthcare heroes: interview with Karola Inakue « Back to Blogs


According to the WHO, 70% of the world’s health  workers are women. As we celebrate International Women’s Day this month, we want to spotlight some of the incredible women we have met through the ADB/BMJ partnership and who have been actively working on the frontline during the pandemic.

Karola Inakue is a health promotion worker from the island of Sumba in Indonesia. Her usual role of providing education on malaria and hypertension shifted to providing house-to-house education on the dangers and health precautions for COVID-19 during the pandemic.

In February 2020, COVID-19 emerged in Indonesia. People were rapidly returning home to the island of Sumba, after universities closed and workplaces were beginning to lay off employees. Karola and her colleagues courageously went into the homes of individuals who had just returned to the island. First, they went in to trace people who had close contact with each other. They made a second visit to perform rapid tests. After receiving test results, they went once again to follow up on their patients and persuade them to self isolate. Many misunderstood the waiting period between the visits, assuming that healthcare workers were returning for money or they were too late. People in Sumba were really angry at these healthcare workers. They slammed their doors, threw chairs and even threatened the staff with machetes. This made house-to-house visits very challenging.

Not only did they face retaliation and anger, Karola had to overcome language barriers. In Southwest Sumba, there are three main tribes with different dialects. The dialect Karola spoke was different from where she was doing outreach so she had to bring her friends who could speak the local language. Even when using the local language, some people still struggled to understand the messaging around COVID-19. Determined to overcome these challenges, Karola and her colleagues persevered and continued to educate people the best they could.

As the pandemic progressed, people started to acknowledge the impacts of the virus and understood that this was a global issue. Karola saw the shift in people taking COVID-19 restrictions seriously. People started to wear masks and larger gatherings were cancelled.

A year on and Karola and her peers continue to promote and enforce self-hygiene protocols. She hopes that people on the Island will continue to practice self-hygiene and health promotion staff will continue to wear personal protective equipment during community outreach activities, even after the pandemic ends.

Despite the challenges she has faced, Karola continues to be uplifted by the value of her role. She enjoys her job and the responsibility she holds in educating people. In understanding that people have hope in healthcare workers, Karola perseveres and continues her health education.

Karola’s final message to her fellow healthcare workers: ‘Do not give up because what you do is giving hope to all people out there’.

Our sincere thanks to Karola Inakue for taking the time to speak to us, Ragil Dien and Livia Nathania for translating and Sadika Aktar, our Global Health intern who conducted the interview.

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