‘My biggest challenge has been to ensure that children are protected’
Considered one of the longest-serving health professionals with vast experience and specialist knowledge, Florida Bijoux describes herself as a hardworking and optimistic person who believes that challenges with perseverance can be short-lived and surmounted. In the health and education sectors, Florida Bijoux, more fondly named Miss Florida or Miss Bijoux, has been synonymous with the Extended Programme of Inoculation (EPI), a Ministry of Health’s vaccination initiative, starting with newborn babies right through adult life. She has been for decades a familiar face to expectant mothers, school children and teachers.
Many of us, I am sure, can still recall our school days when Miss Bijoux, armed with her large thermos flask or icebox filled with vaccine materials, alighted on the school premises from a Ministry of Health’s vehicle on inoculation day. Feelings were mixed, with some young children showing signs of anxiety and others frightened to the verge of tears. However, Miss Bijoux had a unique way with young children. She would quickly allay all anxiety and fear with comforting and reassuring words and actions in her usual calm and motherly manner. Soon the injections would be expertly administered as if nothing was amiss. The kind nurse would make her departure amid many giant smiles, including a few toothless ones and happy hand waves, having accomplished her mission.
Mrs Bijoux completed both her primary and secondary education in Seychelles state schools and 1980 graduated from the Seychelles School of Nursing as a general nurse. At that time, there was a high demand for qualified midwives, so she embarked on a midwifery course, after which she started working for the Ministry of Health.
As a firm believer in continuing personal and professional development, she pursued several post-basic training programmes which gained her added qualifications, including Specialized Pediatric Nursing and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She has also followed a Leadership for Change programme, organized by the International Council of Nurses, which has helped improve her management and nursing knowledge. She regards it as required for the various key management posts she has held so far. Today she is the National Programme Manager for the Child Health and Immunization Programmes, thus her direct contribution to ECCE. She attributes her accomplishments to her unwavering devotion and dedication in fulfilling all her responsibilities with a holistic approach to patient care and acting as a teacher and mentor to young student nurses.
Career-wise, her most significant achievement is the successful maintenance of the immunization programme in Seychelles, at a high level of performance over the past decade that has led to the elimination of vaccine-preventable diseases. Through her advocacy and practical negotiation skills, she obtained support from the Seychelles government and external partners such as WHO to sustain the national vaccination programme and introduce several new initiatives. Including the introduction of the Haemophilus Influenza Type B, Human Papillomavirus, Inactive Polio, Packed Cell and Rotavirus vaccines, the introduction of new technologies such as the Auto-disposal syringes and support for the development of the National EPI comprehensive multi-year plan resulting in an improvement in the morbidity and mortality rate of vaccine-preventable diseases.
A significant achievement in direct relation to young children is promoting the child health programme through outreach activities to ensure the inclusion of all children. Her outreach work culminated in providing home visits of children with defaulting parents for home-based counselling and immunization. Her most tremendous pride and joy is to see the disadvantaged children she has helped participate actively in sports and other activities and achieve in their studies.
Mrs Bijoux has been instrumental in maintaining the national primary health care status, contributing to raising Seychelles’ profile in this domain. In terms of her accomplishments, she has this to say, “The maintenance of almost 100% immunization coverage for most major vaccine antigens has been a great achievement, as this has sustained Seychelles’ status as a model for WHO/AFRO region.”
Mrs Bijoux maintains that her biggest challenge has been to ensure that children are protected. Services continued during the Covid-19 pandemic, which she reckons could have had a greater negative impact and reversed the significant advances made in health care.
For health workers, community service is part and parcel of their careers. Thus, voluntarily, Mrs Bijoux has extended her service beyond regular hours to clients who cannot access health services during standard times. In 2018, she applied to work at the HIV helpline to give back to the community. She also serves as a member of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Response Committee.
As a dedicated nurse working with young children, she regards them as being special, with the need to be treated with love and care and given all the opportunities to develop and flourish. She advocates for fellow professionals who deal with them and have their welfare at heart to do the same. Seeing young nurses, she has groomed and supervised climb the ladder, especially in child care, with some of them delivering efficient service by her side, gives her satisfaction beyond measure. She affirms, “I feel it is important to prepare them to take over from me in future. I instill in them a positive mind, a caring disposition, love for young children and a responsible approach to any task they undertake or any situation they may find themselves in.”
For the younger generation, her message is to be the best they can be, treat everyone with fairness and career-wise to exercise patience, make use of all the opportunities presented to them, and strive to make meaningful contributions in their organizations nationally. Her vision for her organization is to deliver a high-quality Child Health Programme, accessible to all, ensuring that no child is left behind when in need of care to stay healthy and reach their full potential in all aspects of life.
A devout Christian, Mrs Bijoux acknowledges the Almighty being ever-present in her life, giving her the strength to undertake daily assignments and to face challenges in a positive way. Despite such a successful and fulfilling career, she considers her life worth nothing to her unless, as she concludes, “I may finish the race and the task the Lord Jesus has given me.”