Nurses and Midwives as the Formula and not part of “An Equation”: The Year of the Nurse and Midwife

A nurse is a person trained to offer care to patients and to promote health to individuals of all ages, families, groups and communities, sick or well and in all settings. The term nurse is derived from the active verb nurse which refers to compassionate care, nourishment and protection to enable one to thrive[1]. Nurses also take part in advocacy, disease prevention, and education towards the realization of a safe and healthy human populace.

Ms. Lucy Kamunya with a Medical Officer attending to a patient at an ER

Nurses are an integral part of healthcare system worldwide. The World Health Assembly (WHA) declared 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwives. Nurses and midwives play a vital role in caring for mothers and children, giving immunization and health advice, looking after the sick and older people and meeting their everyday essential healthcare needs. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic have put nurses at an even more critical position in the healthcare system. They are at the frontline taking care of patients, comforting patients & families, assisting doctors, administering prescribed medicines, educating patients & relatives, preventing transmission of the virus within their practice settings and grief with the bereaved. It’s draining but in all nurses do this job without complaining. This is because they made a commitment to be of service and to nurse; care with compassion.

Unfortunately, some of our nurses are being exposed to the virus due to lack of adequate and the right standards of personal protective equipment (PPE). Nurses among other health workers have lost their lives to this pandemic while trying to save others[2][3][4]. If you ask me, that is the true definition of a hero.

The world is struggling with a shortage of healthcare workers with an approximate deficit of 5.9million nurses[5]. On the backdrop of this, the WHO reports that nurses account for 50% of the global healthcare workforce which generally translates to a huge deficit in other cadres of health workers as well. Africa and South East Asia are some of the most affected continents with large needs-based shortages of nurses and midwives.

Kenya is no exception to shortage of nurses. This has been a perennial challenge. Naturally, we would expect the government to rollout a plan to train more nurses, recruit the trained nurses in efforts to address this shortage. On the contrary this has been a challenge. Nurses in the country are trained on two different tiers i.e. Diploma level majorly through Kenya Medical Training Colleges (KMTC) and Degree level under the Bachelor of Science Nursing offered in different universities in the country. Employment have been an issue for these caregivers in the country with the most hit being the degree holders where most of them are at the mercy of private facilities yet the greatest need exist in the public sector. Those in public sector service are overworked and strained to the point of breaking down but as a calling they carry their cross with honor and dignity.

To realize our the global aspirations of Sustainable Development Goal 3; Good Health and Well-being; as espoused by the United Nations Development Programme and Universal Health Care (UHC) as envisioned by the President of the republic H.E. Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta, nurses and midwives have to be part of the formula and not just a part of the equation. This will range from promoting recruitment into nursing schools, proper training coupled with experiential learning opportunities, access to fulfilling & rewarding job opportunities and professional development opportunities. Collaborative engagement with other cadres in the healthcare sector is a critical component as well especially with the acknowledgement of the value of multidisciplinary practice.

With coronavirus disease (COVID-19) disrupting global economies, straining health systems and taking lives we need to empower our nurses to do their part. They are in the battlefield already, it’s our part to replenish their stocks, armor them with PPE’s and look out for them post this pandemic. It’s high time we rethink our engagement with nurses and midwives.

Author: Ms. Lucy Kamunya; Graduate Nurse from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

[1] International Council of Nurses: Nursing Definitions: https://www.icn.ch/nursing-policy/nursing-definitions [2] Nurse deaths ‘inevitable’ from coronavirus: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-52165167 [3] These are the NHS workers who have died from coronavirus: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/nhs-workers-died-coronavirus-frontline-victims/ [4] British Muslim nurse, doctor latest medical staff to die of virus: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/british-muslim-nurse-doctor-latest-medical-staff-die-virus-200403132452955.html [5] First ever State of the World’s Nursing report launched amid COVID19 pandemic: https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/06-04-2020-world-health-worker-week-2020