he 72nd World Health Assembly designated the year 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and The Midwife in recognition of the contributions nurses and midwives make to the health and wellbeing of populations across the globe.
The year also coincides with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale; the founder of modern nursing. In Malawi, the launch of this special year was graced by President Lazarus Chakwera at Bingu International Convention Centre (Bicc) in Lilongwe on November 25 2020. It was a great honour to the profession and historical.
The National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives in Malawi (NONM) president Shouts Simeza, in his presentation at the launch, lamented that nurses are not respected.
Truly, nursing has played second fiddle to other professions for way too long. Certain professions have received preferential treatment. It cannot be disputed that nursing is the most underrated profession in the country and perhaps beyond.
The 2020 State of the World’s Nursing report acknowledges that although nursing forms the backbone of the healthcare delivery system, there are very few nurses in top managerial positions. This is so despite that nursing is the largest occupational group in the health sector, accounting for approximately 59 percent of the health professions.
I feel bad to see well-experienced nurses with the requisite qualifications being denied top managerial positions simply because they are nurses.
History has it that the country has had two nurse-midwives serve as Principal Secretaries.
And indeed, not so long ago, at least five districts had district health officers with a nursing background. Additionally, Mzuzu Central Hospital once had a nurse as its hospital director, so too with Zomba Mental Hospital. From what we know, they all delivered. However, those professional gains have since been lost.
Several years ago, while I worked at Thyolo District Hospital, we had an international non-governmental organisation called MSF-B which was supporting the district in HIV and Aids management. I was amazed at some point to learn that the country director of this big organisation at the time was a nurse.
Locally, the first executive director of Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM) was Dorothy Ngoma, a nurse-cum-midwife by profession. She laid the foundation of what BLM has become today. Likewise, Malawi University of Science and Technology vice-chancellor Address Malata is an accomplished nurse-cum-midwife. Clearly, this illustrates the fact that nurses do deliver when given a chance to lead.
It must be stated that the nursing profession has come of age. We now boast of having five professors, over 40 PhD holders, and indeed over 150 masters’ degree holders, not to talk of the many first degrees and diploma holders. We can, therefore, emphatically and proudly say that the profession can stand shoulder to shoulder with any profession.
Nevertheless, there is renewed hope. The new government has committed to rewarding good performance. It is in this regard that the presence of the President at the launch of the nurses and midwives year signalled a new beginning for the profession. The President showed us respect and we sincerely thank him for that. We only hope that this time around our expectations, desires, needs and aspirations will be realised. We are ready to lead!
We do realise that we belong to a multidisciplinary team of health professionals; however, there is a general feeling among us nurses that our capabilities are underestimated. A motivated and empowered workforce is the biggest asset for any nation to develop.
The State of the World’s Nursing Report urges governments across the world and all relevant stakeholders to, among other commitments, strengthen nursing leadership to ensure that nurses have an influential role in health policy formulation and decision making.
Nurses are critical to the achievement of sustainable development goals. No global or national health agenda can be realised without the contribution of the nursing workforce. Therefore, deliberate policy decisions need to be made to maximise nurses’ impact by placing them in critical leadership positions. Nurses can deliver, Yes we can.