Selflessly Serving in the Midst of Uncertainty

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Meet Antonia Richards Stewart, a Jamaican nurse who has made sacrifices to serve and care for #COVID19 patients. Antonia represents all frontline workers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty as Jamaica continues in its fight against the pandemic.
Antonia Richards Stewart

“I looked at my boss, and she looked right back at me as I sat in the meeting room and thought to myself ‘Here comes the question,’” says 33-year-old Antonia Richards Stewart, a registered nurse at the Kingston Public Hospital in Jamaica who is considered a leader among her colleagues.

Antonia was not the only person in the room. Back in 2020, a group of nurses was urgently called in to request their services for the newly created COVID-19 ward at the hospital.

“All my other colleagues started to speak on my behalf, giving excuses why I should not work on the ward, but my boss kept looking at me and asked what I had to say. When I said okay, everyone in the room turned to look at me as if I were crazy,” shares Antonia.

With Jamaica recording its first COVID-19 patient in March 2020, the country was on high alert with its response to this virus which was wreaking havoc internationally. Schools were forced to close their in-person classroom settings, businesses were urged to telework, and certain sectors of society were forced to close, all in the effort to minimize the spread of the virus.

While many people were forced to stay inside, Antonia, like all other superhero health care and critical service workers, was called to stay out and serve those in need.

“Oh my God you make me want to cry! As a nurse, you are prepared for any communicable disease that can spread. We know this and are trained for this, but the coronavirus shocked the entire hospital staff,” explains Antonia.

She witnessed her colleagues' fear for their own health and their families’. It was difficult to get staff to work in the isolation ward. The World Health Organization estimates that at least 115,000 health and care workers have paid the ultimate price in the service of others during the pandemic.

However, Antonia was not deterred. “If everybody is going to run away, who is going to stay and care? It could be your very own family that needs the help,” she says.

With the steady increase of infections spreading, Antonia decided to suit up, determined to serve despite the high risks. At the height of the crisis she sometimes worked 16-hour shifts.

Witnessing patients take their last breaths and being the last face that they saw, with no family to bid them farewell, was not easy. Often, Antonia served as a comforting presence, as these patients were often unable to see family members. The task was not easy, but Antonia explained this is part of her duty and calling as a nurse.

Recognizing the need to support the Government of Jamaica in its fight against the pandemic, USAID provided $2 million in COVID-19 assistance to bolster the country's COVID-19 emergency response. This funding helped train and equip nurses like Antonia to care for COVID-19 patients, and provided personal protective equipment to help keep them safe.

“When our neighbors are in need, USAID is there to help. We’re doing our part to provide COVID-19 assistance to the government and people of Jamaica. Our support is more than just funds: we are intentional in providing life-saving supplies, technical expertise, training, and more to respond to the pandemic and prevent future health crises,” says Jason Fraser, the country representative for USAID’s Mission in Jamaica.

More than a year into the pandemic, the country still continues to battle the challenges it brought on. To date, Jamaica has had 50,000 infections and more than 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Antonia, like the other brave health care and frontline workers, is a part of the solution.

“I had three very ill COVID-19 patients who told me they were determined to live. Together, we fought for their survival, and to see them all walk out of the hospital alive gave me great joy.” says Antonia.

Those same patients returned to the ward and decided to give back by donating critical medical supplies to the hospital. Their generosity is part of the solution as well.

USAID continues to help build more resilient health systems critical to the response and recovery from this global pandemic. That includes the ability to ensure uninterrupted health care and functioning health institutions during crises -- and especially in the event of COVID waves that continue around the globe.

“I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge from this pandemic in terms of caring for patients. But what is critical to winning this fight against COVID-19 is us, the people. We need to rise up, wise up, see the situation for what it is, and work hard at maintaining our health and the health of others.” says Antonia.

Last updated: September 21, 2021

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