On Thursday, Malawi joined the rest of the globe in commemorating the International Nurses Day. Our reporter FATSANI GUNYA caught up with DOROTHY NGOMA, president of the National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi (Nonm) who attempts to paint a clear picture of the profession in the country. She also highlights the challenges that caregivers face.
How vital are nurses and midwives to the country?
Nurses and midwives form the health teams at all levels of care and contribute to meeting the health needs of the country. They form the backbone of the health sector as front liners and contribute to achievement of better lives for the people of Malawi.
Healthy people mean a healthy nation with all abilities to work at different set ups in regard to economic growth. Sick people will not contribute to economic growth because they negatively deplete their income as they seek medical attention and different health related support.
Nurses and midwives also contribute to improvement of the social indicators like mortality and morbidity rates, HIV and Aids etcetera and these are the factors that influence the economic level of a country.
Is Nonm growing both in terms of numbers and offering quality health service to Malawians?
Yes, the organisation is growing in numbers because since we became a union our cumulative membership has been increasing. The membership in 2006 was a meagre 50 but today we have 11 413 nurses and midwives as members.
The quality of care that is given to the general public is improving though there are just so many challenges like critical shortage of nurses with a heavy workload from increased number of patients because of the fast population growth and the high disease burden.
What are the current statistics on caregiver to patient ratio?
We have about 17 million people against about 12 000 nurses and midwives in the country. This comparison should give you a picture that our nurses are working extra hard to care for such a huge population. However, this is overworking them and it strains their energy considering that one nurse is caring for hundreds of patients which is not healthy.
What measures are there to stop ‘brain-drain’ of caregivers?
There are not enough incentives to prevent brain-drain. I am saying this because already we are receiving reports from all over the country about some nurses quitting the profession to pursue other more rewarding careers in the health sector. Just recently I was in Nkhata Bay where the district health officer informed me that about 17 nurses quit to study other different programmes and courses. So you can imagine the extent of the situation that we are in.
To help ‘enhance’ and ‘build capacity’ of the public workforce, government recently recommended that all nurses upgrade by, among others, undergoing another two year diploma level for registered nurses. What is the progress on this?
We acknowledge government’s commitment to facilitate upgrading of our nurses but we are saying no to letting our nurses that have a diploma to go back to school to do another diploma in the name of upgrading. We plead with government to upgrade our nurses from diploma to degree level. Our nurses will not benefit much by repeating another diploma. What it means is that they will just gain the status from Nurse Midwife Technician [NMT] to Registered Nurse [RN], but the benefits will remain the same. As it is, a nurse is being asked to spend five years just on the diploma level when they could have easily acquired a degree within the same period. This is where we feel it is counter-productive.
What are your plans in the next foreseeable future?
We would like to have every nurse working in this country becoming our member. We would like to see that members who belong to our union exercise utmost professionalism in as far as patient care and quality health service delivery is concerned in the country. We would also like to see nurses sustaining themselves through our nationwide branches, sustainability in terms of social economic capabilities to fend for their needs not only from their salaries but through our social programmes.