There was a time when Chenai Mathabire read Vogue, watched beauty pageants on TV and fantasized about being a supermodel. Today she helps the sick and injured as a nurse and epidemiologist.
Last month, the 35-year-old Zimbabwean received an International AIDS Society prize for showing that a faster tuberculosis test could be implemented at health centers in southeast Africa. Her work will help save the lives of HIV-positive patients who contract TB.
“Nursing is often looked down upon and people just think you are there to be the maid of the doctor or do the dirty work. But teachers made me realize that nurses have a big role to play,” says Mathabire.
In Zimbabwe's bustling capital, Harare, Mathabire earned high enough points in her studies to pursue a degree in physiotherapy, occupational therapy or nursing at university. She chose to become a nurse — the first nurse in her family. In 2008, she was between jobs and Zimbabwe was facing economic problems. Mathabire decided to apply for a job at Doctors Without Borders.
The work took her into some of Africa's grimmest situations. She helped diagnose malnourished children with HIV, tuberculosis, pneumonia and malaria in Zimbabwe. Then she supervised workers who were teaching HIV-positive pregnant women how to protect their children from the virus. After that, she worked in a mobile hospital in South Sudan, treating gunshot wounds during a tribal war.
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