NOVI SAD, Serbia (Reuters) - Almost a year after they admitted Serbia's first COVID-19 patient, women doctors and nurses at the Clinical Center hospital in the northern city of Novi Sad are still at the frontline in the fight against the disease.
Instead of a traditional International Women's Day party, a legacy from the decades of communist rule, they spent most of their working day on Monday treating severely ill people.
The risk of catching the disease which has killed 150 doctors and nurses in Serbia is great and their work is physically and psychologically demanding.
"Emotions are involved in treating patients, especially when they are fully conscious and scared," nurse Maja Cvjetkovic told Reuters. "Sometimes we sing to them."
In Serbia, which has a population of 7 million and a nationwide vaccination programme, 4,562 people have died from COVID-19 and 485,439 have tested positive for the virus, according to official data.
Despite the inoculations, case numbers in Serbia are rising again, with around 4,000 new infections daily.
Long hours among very sick people have affected the private lives of medical staff and the hospital walls are decorated with drawings of their children.
"It affected my private life and private lives of others, we sometimes comment that we have became anti-social," said Natasa Gocic Peric, a doctor.
Although the rights of women in traditionally patriarchal Serbia have improved since the country sought to join the EU in the early 2000s, they are still fighting discrimination, home violence, a gender pay gap, sexism and misogyny.
"The burden of this pandemic fell on ... women. We are just as capable, hardworking and ready to share the burden of the development of Serbia," Gordana Comic, Serbia's Minister for Minority Rights, told reporters in Belgrade.
(Reporting by Fedja Grulovic and Marko Djurica in Novi Sad; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Ed Osmond)