The World Health Organisation says the world needs Nine million more nurses and midwives to realise the health-related global Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, disclosed this in her message to commemorate the International Nurses’ Day 2022 with the theme: “ Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Invest in Nursing and Respect Rights’’.
She said the African Region had long grappled with a severe shortage of nurses, which, according to her, if left unaddressed, posed a significant threat to our progress toward Universal Health Coverage.
Moeti said that in the latest estimates, there were 1.6 million nurses and midwives across the 47 member states.
“A total of 66 per cent of nurses are concentrated in six countries: Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa,’’ she said.
Moeti noted that the context of the global COVID-19 health emergency had highlighted the depth of the nursing shortage in Africa, and globally.
“Nigeria has the highest share of the headcount of nurses at 21 per cent followed by South Africa at 18 per cent,’’ she said.
According to her, WHO Africa’s analysis has identified a threshold of about 60 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people as a critical point for attaining at least 70 per cent of the Universal Health Coverage Index.
She said that currently, most countries had fewer than 20 with the number dropping way below.
“Nurses have a critical role to play in Primary Health Care delivery, often being the first and only health professional a patient will see.
“They contribute to research, disease prevention, treating the injured, administering palliative care, and more.
“They are the true unsung heroes on the front lines of disease prevention and care,’’ Moeti said.
The WHO chief said that it was common knowledge that investing in nurses and midwives was good value for money.
According to her, UN High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth says investments in education and job creation in the health and social sectors result in a threefold return in terms of improved health outcomes
She said that these investments also result in global health security and inclusive economic growth.
“Emphasising the true value of our nurses, and the central role they have to play in influencing change can transform the future of health care in Africa.
“Throughout the pandemic, nurses made great sacrifices, acted courageously, and recommitted daily to tackle a global health threat that is unprecedented in modern times.
“Serving as an indispensable pillar supporting African health care systems through some very challenging times,’’ she said.
Moeti added that “as WHO in Africa, we are supporting member states to strengthen nursing and midwifery through the implementation of the Global Strategic Directions for Nursing and Midwifery (SDNM) 2021-2025.
“Also with an inter-related set of policy priorities to guide the contributions of nurses and midwives to achieve Universal Health Coverage and other population health goals.
“In our continuing efforts to give nurses a voice, WHO established the Nursing and Midwifery Global Community of Practice Virtual Network.”
Moeti said the network was a forum for nurses and midwives around the world to collaborate with one another, with WHO, and with other key stakeholders.
She called on African governments to commit the necessary investment to help improve the attractiveness of the nursing profession.
“This will require proper equipment, better working conditions, appropriate education, upskilling opportunities, and job creation.
“Nursing leadership also needs to be optimised with chief nursing and midwifery officers mandated to drive the nursing agenda across education, employment, policy and practice.
“Around 80 per cent of primary healthcare can be delivered by nurses.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has served as an important platform to reiterate how integral nurses are to the maintenance of routine health care delivery, while also responding to a global crisis,’’ she said.
According to her, the case for investing in nursing education, jobs and leadership is clear, and it’s time to commit to action.
“The International Nurses’ Day 2022 is celebrated annually on 12 May in memory of the birth of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale.
“Also to honour nurses as an invaluable resource, and raise awareness of the challenges they face,’’ she said.