The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on African governments to invest in making the nursing profession attractive.
The Organisation said that would require the provision of proper equipment, better working conditions, appropriate education, upskilling opportunities, and job creation.
The WHO in a statement to commemorate International Nurses Day, said the case for investing in nursing education, jobs and leadership was clear, and the time was now to commit to action.
International Nurses’ Day is celebrated annually on 12 May in memory of the birth of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, but also to honour nurses as an invaluable resource, and raise awareness of the challenges they face.
It is on the theme, “Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Invest in Nursing and Respect Rights to Secure Global Health, could not be more appropriate.”
The Day is celebrated in the context of the global COVID-19 health emergency, which has highlighted the depth of the nursing shortage in Africa, and globally.
It said nursing leadership also needed to be optimised, with chief nursing and midwifery officers mandated to drive the nursing agenda across education, employment, policy, and practice.
“Nurses have a critical role to play in Primary Health Care delivery, often being the first and only health professional a patient would 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,” it stated.
“…It is a common cause that investing in nurses and midwives was good value for money and investing in the education and job creation in the health and social sectors would result in a threefold return in terms of improved health outcomes, global health security, and inclusive economic growth.”
Statistics from WHO indicate that the world needs nine million more nurses and midwives to realise the health-related global Sustainable Development Goal by 2030.
It said WHO in Africa’s analysis had 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 service coverage index.
WHO said currently, most countries had fewer than 20, with the number dropping way below even that for many across the continent, it stated.
It said a total of 66 per cent of nurses were concentrated in six countries, including Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa.
Nigeria has the highest share of the headcount of nurses at 21 per cent, followed by South Africa at 18 per cent.
It stated that throughout the pandemic, nurses had made great sacrifices, acted courageously, and recommitted daily to tackle a global health threat that was unprecedented in modern times, serving as an indispensable pillar supporting African health care systems through some challenging times.
“We most sincerely appreciate and celebrate all nurses in the African Region and thank them for their unwavering dedication in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said.
“The WHO African Region has long grappled with a severe shortage of nurses, which if left unaddressed, poses a significant threat to our progress towards Universal Health Coverage,” it said.
There are 1.6 million nurses and midwives across the 47 Member States influencing change towards transforming the future of health care in Africa.