West African nurses and midwives have been tasked to return to the core values of the profession and improve on their training towards emergency response and crisis management so as to be more prepared for future epidemic occurrences in the sub-region.
This advice was given at the West African College of Nursing, WACN, 14th Biennial General Meeting which kicked off on Tuesday at the ECOWAS secretariat conference centre, Abuja.
The Conference, featuring the 23rd Scientific Session and 37th Council Meeting, is themed: ‘Emerging Health Emergencies: Community and Health Workforce Response in the Sub-region”.
The Nigerian Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, who represented the Acting Vice President at the opening ceremony, said the theme for this year’s conference is quite apt and relevant due to the major transformations that are taking place in the health sector all across the sub-region.
Mr. Adewole, while delivering the Acting President’s speech, said the last half of the decade has witnessed emerging health challenges such as the bird flu, Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and recently the outbreak of Neisseria meningitis in Nigeria, challenges that have tested Nigeria’s resilience and exhibited her ability to deal efficiently and effectively with health problems.
“In addition to these outbreaks, the sub-region has been faced with reoccurring violence, which has resulted in the displacement of people from their homes creating emergency situations, particularly in the care of internally displaced persons, IDPs and these incidences have further brought to the forefront the immense importance of Nurses and Midwives as frontline health workers, who are strategically placed to render health care at the community level.”
The minister therefore tasked the nurses and midwives to use the conference to deliberate on issues confronting the profession objectively and come out with measures that can address emerging health challenges in the sub-region. He said nurses and midwives are key to the healthcare delivery system and their contributions are crucial in improving health outcomes of individuals, families, communities, the nation and the West Africa as a whole.
Mr. Adewole said the healthcare system is in the midst of great change as care providers discover new ways to provide patient-centred care, and to deliver more primary care in the community rather than the acute care settings.
He said in the most affected regions of sub-Saharan Africa, the responsibilities of nurses have increased in line with expanding health services to meet local, national and global health targets, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
He said the roles of nurses and midwives in the health systems would need to be reviewed, delineated and recognised for better impact and optimum contribution to positive health.
The minister added that the government is also aware that reduced workforce leads to higher morbidity and mortality and that with better funding there will be more recruitment and retention, better remunerations and also positive practice environments.
“For example, the Federal Government of Nigeria is putting Nigerian nurses and midwives at the forefront of Revitalisation of Primary Healthcare services in the country, this is the flagship intervention for our health agenda. We will soon roll out mass engagement of nurses and community health extension workers in all our PHCs for effective and efficient 24-hour coverage of healthcare services. We shall also increase community awareness and ensure acceptance of conventional health care programmes that will fast track the achievement of universal health coverage and the sustainable development goals,” he said.
He, however, urged the nurses that the caring nature of the profession epitomised by the works of Florence Nightingale “the Lady with the Lamp” should be rekindled within the profession so that individuals, families and the communities all have the right to receive quality care from nurses and midwives.
The Key note speaker, Uduak Archibong, Director, Centre for Inclusion and Diversity, University of Bradford, said there is a need to include emergency training, disaster management and other crisis management into the nursing curriculum and accreditation in West Africa.
Ms. Archibong said there will be increasing cases of disaster and diseases management in West Africa and the nurses need to be well trained to be prepared to combat the challenges that will be occurring in the healthcare sector as they are in the front line of healthcare delivery all over the world.
“The weak healthcare system in West Africa is one of the reasons why there are lots of fatalities in disease outbreak in the region. Nurses and midwives have to develop their values in disease management, responding and discharging of their duties.
“There is a need to return to the essence of the core value of nursing to be able to achieve laudable feats in combating these diseases when the breakout because there will be a lot of disaster related emergencies in the region in years to come and the only way to be prepared is to have training for upcoming nurses to discharge their duties when the situation demand for it,” she said.
She, however, lamented that nurses and midwives are often left out of emergencies in the region as there are no consideration for these people who relate more with the patients and are more exposed to the hazards of the profession.
“There is a need to improve on safety which is critical to discharging of their duties as low incoming countries are now confronted with double disease where communicable and non-communicable diseases now co-exist,” she added.
The conference seeks to address issues including the emerging impact of non-communicable diseases, emerging health emergencies in infant and young children, as well as feeding and protection of healthcare workers during conflict and insurgencies.