Daren Paul Katigbak was born and raised in the Philippines and now lives in the Netherlands. He believes nurses should be valued at all times, not just during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is his story...
I have a Master of Science in Public Health from Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam and am doing a second Masters at the International Institute of Social Studies – Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Hague (ISS-EUR). In the Philippines, I worked in the intensive care unit and emergency room before moving to a faith-based NGO. I am involved with HIV advocacy and youth networks internationally, such as Y+ Global, of which I am the Deputy Chair
“My motivation to become a nurse was also linked to the fact that when I got diagnosed with HIV, I wanted to help others in a similar situation.”
I wanted to be a doctor, but due to financial constraints, it was difficult to go to medical school. So I decided to be an assistant to a doctor – a nurse. I got a partial scholarship at college and studied nursing. I started seeing that nurses play an important role in medicine. Doctors usually do the initial session, but nurses are there throughout the process. My motivation to become a nurse was also linked to the fact that when I got diagnosed with HIV, I wanted to help others in a similar situation. I wanted to work on community initiatives on HIV or other public health concerns in the Philippines, such as TB and malaria, which is also a major burden to the community.
I started working in the hospital immediately after graduating and passing the board exam in the Philippines. In my three years there, I felt that I was not growing in my career. There was a lot of work to do and clients to see in the eight-hour nursing shift. I was very tired. Usually, you leave two hours after your shift ends and we were not compensated for that overtime. The burden was huge and the salary was not sufficient.
“We were able to change the narrative in HIV programming, especially coming from the church. I was very proud of this.”
So I moved to where I felt I could be more useful and empowered – working for the community and managing programmes and activities. During my time with the NGO, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – Episcopal Commission on Health Care (CBCP-ECHC), we set up a one-stop clinic, the Woodwater Center for Healing. We provided health promotional activities and counselling to key affected populations, people living with HIV and people affected by TB. We provided health services, including HIV treatment and medication for TB. Despite bureaucracy and funding issues, the clinic was seen as a role model and other denominations of Christians were inspired to set up clinics. We were able to change the narrative in HIV programming, especially coming from the church. I was very proud of this.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses are prioritized mainly because we are on the frontline. The government had put an emphasis on us, creating a safe space, elevating our status in society and giving us importance in policies and guidelines, as well as a better salary. COVID-19 should not be the only driving force behind treating us well.
The pandemic has created a crazy situation for me. I am in the Netherlands and my family is in the Philippines; I feel powerless because I cannot take care of my family. I am immunocompromised, so I cannot go out when I want to. However, I am taking the opportunity to use technology to address issues of COVID-19 and create awareness of the relationship between HIV and COVID-19.
“We are in the process of enabling nurses to initiate ART in the Philippines. I believe that the role of nurses will become even more important in managing HIV and controlling the spread of the epidemic.”
The Philippines recorded a 200% increase in HIV infections in nine years, according to UNAIDS. But there are not enough doctors and facilities. We are in the process of enabling nurses to initiate ART in the Philippines. I believe that the role of nurses will become even more important in managing HIV and controlling the spread of the epidemic.
My message for young nurses is: be strong, put yourself out there and remember that you are an important part of the responses to COVID-19 and HIV. Believe in yourself. Help each other and always put your heart into what you are doing.