Nursing Is Part of the Solution to Africa's Healthcare Challenges

28 April 2015: In an effort to combat the increased burden of disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO) implemented Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which includes reducing maternal and infant mortality as well as decreasing infections like HIV and Aids, TB and Malaria by 2015, among other initiatives. According to Professor Busi Bhengu, Chairperson of the South Africa Nursing Council and speaker at the Nursing Conference set to be held as part of the Africa Health Exhibition & Congress 2015 in Johannesburg, nurses have and always will be the solution to the health system's problems.

She explains that nurses play a key role in the healthcare sector and their efforts are critical in countries attaining their MDGs. "Realising this, WHO introduced task shifting and task sharing in an effort to empower nurses to perform functions and roles that would otherwise be performed by other medical workers. For example, nurses are now allowed prescribing medication up to Schedule 4 to patients."

Bhengu points out that there is an increased demand for nurses to prescribe even higher schedules, including pain control in palliative care and in midwifery and antidepressants for mental health patients. "Nurses are also performing pregnancy terminations and medical circumcisions. In addition, there are suggestions in the industry that nurses assist doctors in caesarean sections in South Africa. It has been reported that nurses in Mozambique are already performing caesarean sections."

She adds that human resources shortages within the healthcare industry are generally related to the failure of attaining a balanced supply and demand chain for human resources in South African healthcare systems - largely as a result of the 'brain drain' taking place. "Specialist nurses leave the country to go work in developed countries, or within the private sector, resulting in rural medical institutions facing a shortage of human resources."

Bhengu explains that there is a great need for nurses who are analytic, critical thinkers and problem solvers to enter the industry. "In order to address the issue of increased complexity of diseases, the nursing industry requires an education body, such as the Council for Higher Education (CHE) in collaboration with the South African Nursing Council, in order to monitor and evaluate the quality of the nursing schooling system and quality of nursing graduates. There is also a need for enhancement of the nursing profession in order to recruit more youngsters to participate in nursing as a profession."

Many nursing colleges have in the past operated outside the rules of the education and training systems, but regulatory bodies are now expecting nursing institutions to change their curriculums to align with the National Qualifications Framework.

Bhengu stresses that transformation within the nursing profession should occur in a seamless manner in order to avoid a possible negative impact on the numbers and quality of nursing. "Implementation of new programmes into the profession will be phased in and the legacy programmes phased out. Some stakeholders have also expressed concern that new programmes will take nursing education to universities. Both university and college institutions are vital for nursing education, as expressed in some comparative studies."

She also indicates that regulation is another important aspect of quality performance in the health services space. "It is vital that practice standards and inspectorates are implemented to assure quality healthcare. For example, in the unfortunate event of professional conduct hearings, there is no well regulated environment in place to provide a guideline for conduct and the healthcare system will be blamed for unprofessional conduct."

"Although South Africa has the independent Office of Health Standards and Compliance and an ombudsman in place, the office focuses mainly on system issues and governance. In the future, professional regulatory bodies will be working with this compliance office in addition to monitoring and evaluating health care practice and professional education," concludes Bhengu.

Africa Health is supported by South African Nursing Council (SANC), the Alliance of South African Independent Practitioners (ASAIPA), The Council for Health Service Accreditation of Southern Africa (COHSASA) and Diabetes South Africa, as well as international healthcare giants such as Maquet, Draeger, GE Healthcare and Stiegelmeyer.

The event will take place for the 5th time from 5th-7th May 2015 at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.