Nursing and midwifery are honourable professions that are yearning for better recognition locally and regionally. Nurses and midwives make up the largest workforce in the healthcare system.
They are at the forefront of healthcare provision and their role is extremely vital, yet it is underrated.
Time and again the media have portrayed nurses and midwives in a negative light. In recent months, there have been reports of nurses in certain hospitals mistreating patients, stealing babies and going on strike. A positive story on how effective, or efficient, health workers are is rare.
These allegations are, more often than not, fallacies. However, when a person in any profession is accused of behaviour that is contrary to the code of ethics, proper investigations should be carried out and the accused individual charged with the offence.
There are instances in which nurses and midwives are mistreated by patients and their relatives, whom they are trying to help. With a lot of resilience, they endure emotional pain and suffering in the course of duty.
In addition, these health workers have families that depend on them. When they cry for better remuneration, someone should listen. Quite often, they work in poor environments with very minimal, or insufficient, resources and proper equipment. This makes it difficult for them to carry out their tasks effectively and efficiently.
The role of nurses and midwives is vital for any government’s healthcare system, a fact that has beenrealised overseas, but lacking adequate support locally. In the rural areas, nurses and midwives are the only known health care providers and are referred to as “daktari”, the Kiswahili term for doctor, in many places.
Responsibility of the EACAll East African Community member states should ask what needs to be done to promote nursing and midwifery in their countries.
Due to the critical shortage of health workers in many areas, these governments can employ more nurses and midwives and improve their working conditions.
In addition, the lack of facilities and resources in many health institutions should be addressed. Hospitals and clinics should be adequately equipped with basic necessities such as water and soap.
Remuneration should also be improved. Whereas in the West a nurse is paid approximately $40 (Sh4,040) per hour, the monthly salary for some of the health workers in this region is considerably lower. Governments should consider budgeting for, and increasing, the wages of nurses and midwives.
Nurses should also be involved in policy making as they deal directly with patients and spend more time with them. They have a good understanding of the health scenario and their valuable contribution in drafting health policies should be considered.
There is a clear indication that nurses in East Africa are advancing their education. Today, we have nurses in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda with doctorate degrees. However, they are still not really recognised. EAC governments should pay more attention to supporting nurses’ education and helping improve their skills, knowledge and attitude.
ENCOURAGE LOCAL RESEARCH
In line with higher education, research should also be encouraged to generate indigenous and contextual knowledge. This means that we, as Africans, can therafter give evidence-based care from locally conducted research that is more suitable for our people.
We have been using Western textbooks written in the context of Western culture, yet there are significant disparities between African and Western cultures.
Some of our behaviour is dictated by our culture. For example, some women in Africa avoid giving birth in hospitals for fear that the placenta will be thrown away, as is the practice in developed countries. This is because some African communities believe in burying placentas instead.
NEED FOR TEAMWORK
Research indicates that healthcare improves where there is teamwork. Nurses and doctors in East Africa can enhance co-operation among themselves while playing their roles competently and complementing each other.
Today’s nurses are qualified enough to understand the rationale of the care they give to patients. They are better thinkers who can carry out tasks that were formerly strictly the work of doctors, such as diagnosing patients, using modern technology and giving intravenous injections.
There should be no competition between doctors and nurses.
The two professions should work together competently and harmoniously towards a common goal.
IS NURSING A CALLING?
Nursing is a tough job. It involves dealing with human beings from all walks of life and of different temperaments. It means handling patients with a wide variety of diseases, ranging from minor ailments to serious infectious diseases like Ebola.
In nursing and midwifery, there are happy moments, like helping a mother deliver a healthy baby, and sad times, such as handling the death of a patient. If your heart is not in it, you cannot do it. Therefore, nursing is more of a calling than a vocation.
To promote its role in strengthening healthcare systems in East Africa, the Aga Khan University (AKU) School of Nursing and Midwifery has organised a two-day regional alumni conference at the Lake Victoria Serena Resort in Uganda on July 30 and 31.
Themed “Nurses and Midwives Leading the Way – Making an Impact”, the meeting hopes to bring together all stakeholders and policy makers, including government officials, healthcare providers, AKU alumni and medical doctors. It is hoped that the conference will be a wake-up call to promote healthcare systems in East Africa.
The mission of the AKU School of Nursing and Midwifery is to raise the standards and standing of the profession so that it is accorded the recognition and prestige earned and deserved by the men and women whose working lives are dedicated to the demanding and honourable task of caring for the sick.
Professor Yasmin Amarsi, is the Founding Dean of the Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery in East Africa.