Nurses: stars in their own right

2009-06-17 00:00

AS international soccer heroes from Brazil, Spain, the United States, New Zealand, Iraq, Egypt and Italy dazzle us with their skills in the Confederations Cup, another type of international star from these countries is quietly arriving on our shores to look at the health aspect of our country.

Nurses from all over the world, under the auspices of the International Council of Nurses, (ICN) are on their way to South Africa to hold their congress at the Chief Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Ethekwini, from June 27 and July 4.

The ICN is a world body of nursing organisations from over 125 countries. South African nurses are affiliated to the ICN through their membership of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa). The ICN is where the direction and guidelines for nurses and their profession are mapped out.

The 2009 ICN congress in Durban takes place under the theme: Leading change — building healthier nations. Clearly, a congress of this nature, which will see leading nurse educationists, writers, researchers, academics, clinicians and managers sharing ideas on what works in their respective countries, could not have come at a more appropriate time in this country.

Even as you read this, South African nurses are under extreme pressure on so many fronts. They work under very difficult conditions where their numbers are decreasing as a result of poaching by wealthier nations of the north, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and the Arab countries.

This country faces one of the worst infections of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis. Those who are in the know say this country has over 150 new HIV infections per day. Whatever the statistics, it has been established that the sub-Saharan region has the greatest number of people living with HIV and Aids.

Thirdly, many nurses complain that their remuneration is inadequate, while their workload has been increasing steadily. Granted, the government is trying to address this through the introduction of the occupational specific dispensation and other similar interventions, to try to reward good service and retain the much-needed skills.

According to Denosa, this is the first time that the ICN will be holding its congress on African soil, in the same way that it is the first time that this continent will be hosting the Fifa Soccer World Cup next year. So, clearly, as a country we keep on making strides on the international stage.

Despite the perennial problems of poor working conditions low salaries and staff shortages nurses in this country have made some very significant strides in the past few years. Today we have nurses who occupy senior posts that until recently were the sole preserve of doctors and other allied professionals. Today we have nurses who hold positions as hospital managers, chief executive officers, clinical heads, deans of universities and at least one vice chancellor. In addition, many nurses have entered politics, with many elected municipal councillors, members of provincial legislators (MPLs), members of Parliament (MPs) and one or two premiers. In this country, we have a judge in the Constitutional Court who started her career as a nurse. Lastly, the president of this country’s largest trade union movement, Cosatu, is a nurse by training.

The point is that the nursing profession has and is continuing to contribute to South Africa’s nation building and transformation. In this, South African nurses are not doing anything unusual but are following in the footsteps of their pioneers — the African nurse Cecilia Makiwane, the Jamaican nurse entrepreneur Mary Seacole and the British nurse who distinguished herself during the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale.

Each one of these outstanding nurses had to battle a number of challenges in their quest to provide nursing care to their people, but they overcame those hurdles. The challenge is for the current crop of nurses not to despair and to become overwhelmed by problems in their work as they try to offer quality-nursing care to their patients.

The nursing stars may not receive the same attention in the media as their soccer counterparts, but their presence on these shores is no less important. Let us therefore give them the great South African welcome.

 

• Bhungani kaMzolo is deputy director of communications at the Department of Health. These are his views and not necessarily of the department.

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