by Dr Bha Ndungane-Tlakula
While doctors play an instrumental role in the success of the hospital environment by making key decisions pertaining to patient medical diagnosis and treatment, nurses are another important cog in the healthcare wheel and are often the unsung and under-appreciated heroes of the medical world.
Nurses are crucial to primary health care and most often represent the frontline of patient and facility relations.
Their roles are far-reaching, providing patient care and support, educating the public about illnesses and diseases, and even advocating for health interventions.
Overall, the nursing profession has evolved far beyond what it was at conception.
It is important to acknowledge their role in today’s healthcare system, particularly as the world paid homage to the nursing profession on International Nurses Day on Thursday and the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.
Revered as the founder of modern nursing, Nightingale embodied what it entails and her principles have led to more structured nursing practices worldwide.
In South Africa, the nurses’ role and their importance was placed in the spotlight more than ever before as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the country’s increasingly strained healthcare system. It also exposed South Africa’s shortage of professional nurses and highlighted the need for them.
South Africa’s 2030 Human Resources for Health Strategy suggests that if no substantial action is taken now, by 2025, the country will face a shortage of around 34 000 registered nurses.
Given that there were only 71 707 registered professional nurses in 2019 in the country and that 47% of registered nurses will have retired in the next 15 years, solutions to the healthcare shortage must be addressed now to ensure a sustainable future.
The shortage of healthcare professionals and its impact on delivery in the rural areas has long been a topic of discussion and with 32.65% of the population residing in rural areas, at Pfizer, we made the decision to partner with innovative nurse-led programmes such as the Unjani Clinics Network to address the shortage.
With a network of 111 professional black female nurse-owned clinics, the initiative provides quality, affordable and accessible primary healthcare to under-served communities, and aims to empower these nurses, create permanent employment, and develop a sustainable clinic model for providing primary healthcare in often rural areas.
The initiative has seen great success, particularly as more than 84% of the South African population is dependent on the already overburdened public healthcare system.
The partnership has led to the funding and establishment of eight clinics in total. Furthermore, as all Unjani Clinic facilities are nurse-owned, the partnership has empowered eight nurses to own their healthcare facilities and created permanent employment for 31 community members.
The eight clinics have, to date, provided more than 136 247 consultations to communities within which they operate.
“In addition, a basic ultrasound programme was introduced in 2017 and 2018, in which 57 clinics in the Unjani Clinic Network received ultrasound equipment and the necessary training to provide affordable sonar services to confirm pregnancy and determine gestational age,” adds Ndungane-Tlakula.
The initiative also provides training programmes to empower “nurse-preneurs” with the skills to become successful businesswomen, with one nurse, Sister Molly Segobola, who owns a clinic in Hammanskraal, having graduated from the Unjani Clinic five-year Enterprise Development programme in 2021.
Additionally, as many as 13 leaders from the YES programme – a joint venture between government and the private sector – are deployed across Unjani Clinic’s facilities, with three taking part in the Health Promotion Officer Learnership programme.
Nurses do more than merely look after patients while on treatment; they save lives.
As the largest profession in the healthcare sector, it is important to increase the number of nurses in the country by recognising their importance and empowering them to ensure a vastly improved South African healthcare system for future generations.
* Dr Bha Ndungane-Tlakula is Pfizer South Africa medical director.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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