President of Jamaica’s Nurses Association Urges Nurses To Be “Resilient” Amid COVID-19 Discrimination

Photo credit: World Health Organization (WHO)

KINGSTON, Jamaica – The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) to most countries in the world has not only exposed poor hygiene practices, the inability of people to practise social distancing and the general disregard to national regulations, but also the lack of respect for healthcare professionals, particularly nurses.

Many people would be quick to acknowledge the importance of doctors in a health crisis, without giving nurses the credit that they deserve.

In Jamaica, since the first case of COVID-19 was reported, nurses in hospitals and clinics have complained about being scorned and discriminated against by some residents. Operators of public transportation have refused to carry nurses out of fear that they may have the virus. Many nurses have resorted to wearing plain clothes to work, instead of their uniforms, in a response to being scorned in public. But the treatment at the healthcare facilities is not much better. Nurses have also complained about being deliberately coughed on and sneezed on by patients, and even being rudely sprayed with Lysol, alcohol or other unknown substances, by people who enter their places of work.

In times of a pandemic, people often react out of ignorance. And the prevalence of “fake news” has only made the job of nurses’ even harder. The more rumors and gossip spread, in relation to COVID-19 and frontline health professionals, is the more nursed are discriminated by the very people that they are paid to protect.

President of the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ), Carmen Johnson, urged Jamaican nurses to “fight the good fight” and continue to do their part in containing the virus and protecting the country’s residents. “I want to say to our members, continue to do what you do. Continue to prepare yourself to be a part of the greater fight that you will have to fight and the greater crisis that may result, because we have to play our part and do it well,” she told the Jamaica Observer.


Carmen Johnson, who had been head of the Nurses Association of Jamaica since 2017 has also had to “fight the good fight”. Since the beginning of her tenure, Johnson has had to deal with a global health pandemic, a local dengue crisis, rampant sexual harassment, mass migration and unsatisfactory salary negotiations. However, Johnson has said that she believed that nursing was her calling.

While studying at Knox College, she wanted to pursue sociology, but the care she showed for the sick and elderly at her community church in Clarendon eventually translated into a career. She officially became a nurse in the late 80s and by November 1990, she was being assigned to the St. Ann’s Bay Hospital. The devoted Christian and mother currently in her 50s, earned the nickname of “Devotional Sister”, after spending over 20 years at the hospital where she would readily have devotions and prayers with the patients.

In 2017, Johnson replaced Janet Coore-Farr as president of the association. Johnson said it was “a dream come true”, while many NAJ members agreed that she was indeed the right person for the job.


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