A man who really cares for his patients will soon learn to ask for and appreciate the information of a nurse, who is at once a careful observer and a clear reporter.”
Florence Nightingale’s timeless advice to doctors is as true today as it was when her seminal work Notes on Nursing was first published. Two centuries have now passed since the “lady with the lamp” came into this world to change the face of nursing. Her commitment helped transform nursing from a mostly untrained occupation to a highly skilled medical profession with important responsibilities.
Sadly, nurses and midwives remain undervalued and underappreciated. The importance of their role, certainly in the context of East Africa, can hardly be overstated. Across the region, they constitute the majority of the health workforce, in some cases representing over 80 per cent of the health workforce.
Often described as the backbone of health systems, the role of nurses and midwives typically extends beyond administering care. They are usually the first point of contact for patients, receiving people at their most vulnerable and providing comfort, reassurance and competent assessments. Most of us who have experienced hospitals will know how effective they can be in advocating for patients’ interests and improving patient outcomes.
Recognising the critical roles that nurses and midwives play in promoting healthy lifestyles and reducing mortality, morbidity and disability, the Aga Khan Development Network has had a long commitment to strengthening the nursing and midwifery professions in East Africa and elsewhere.
As His Highness the Aga Khan once put it: “I have long felt the enhancement of the nursing profession to be absolutely critical to the improvement of healthcare in the developing world. The way forward was to professionalise, to institutionalise, and to dignify this great profession.”
This week, a new crop of graduands across East Africa will enhance their professional credentials with degrees and diplomas from the Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery.
Since its inception in 2000, the school has seen more than 3,000 join the ranks of qualified, working nurses and midwives in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Guided by the principles of impact, quality, relevance and access, the Aga Khan University and Aga Khan Health Services continue to invest heavily in building nursing capacity in East Africa.
The need to recognise the vital work of nurses and midwives is also being championed by a global campaign, called Nursing Now. In collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Council of Nurses, the campaign seeks to empower nurses to take their place at the heart of tackling 21st Century health challenges and help achieve universal health coverage.
Launched in 2018, Nursing Now already has more than 360 groups across 101 countries, working to promote this important mission. The WHO has designated the year 2020 as the “Year of the Nurse and Midwife”, in honour of the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale.
Those who work in the health services industry have long seen nurses and midwives as the backbone of health systems. For those of us who have experienced the soft touch of their care, we know they are more than that. They are the heart of healthcare.
Amin Mawji OBE is the Diplomatic Representative of the Aga Khan Development Network based in Kampala, Uganda