Analysis: MARGARET CHISANGA
SINCE September 10, there has been a massive social media outcry for improved maternal health care in the country under the hashtag #Nowomanshuddiewhilegivinglife.
Following the campaign and reading through most of the experiences and ideas expressed by those advocating the campaign, two major points stand out. First is that many of those sharing experiences they had gone through while receiving medical care are women. Second point of observation is that experiences shared all referred to issues of perceived neglect, negligence and lack of empathy from the medical personnel.
So, when the Ministry of Health director of human resource Sekelani Banda shared that the ministry has a deficit of 20,000 health personnel which include doctors and nurses, it dawned on me that the available working personnel are stressed out and may not have the capacity to give undivided attention to the satisfaction of every patient.
Emotionally draining work, long hours and staffing challenges can stress any nurse out overtime, and adversely affect the level at which the nurse communicates with patients.
Professor Banda recently said Zambia currently has a situation where for every 10,000 people, there are only seven or nine health workers attending to them.
This is a far cry from the World Health Organisation (WHO) requirements of having one health worker per 1,000 people.
According to the Global Health Observatory (GHO) data, based on a threshold of 4.45 skilled health professionals per 1000 population, it has been estimated that the needs-based shortage of health-care workers globally would be about 17.4 million of which almost 2.6 million are doctors and over 9 million are nurses and midwives.
The largest needs-based shortages are in south east Asian and African regions. If current trends continue, the global needs-based shortage of health-care workers is projected to be still over 14 million in 2030.
This is why the introduction of e-Learning training programmes for nurses in Zambia comes as good news to most women. This is because availability of more staff will minimise the current shortage of health personnel in Zambia and accord them, the time to give each patient more attention without neglecting another.
In 2014, the Ministry of Health in partnership with Child Fund International and Amref Health Africa introduced an e-Learning programme for those aspiring to work as health workers. During the graduation of 1,039 students from 10 health training institutions this year, 67 were from the e-Learning registered nurse programme.
The advantage of this eLearning programme is that it will allow for more students to enrol, thereby increasing the number of health professionals and making health care more accessible. Students under the e-Learning programme receive most tutorials via video and audio and when it is time for practical work, they are dispatched to various health centres where they work under supervision.
With more health workers trained, women can be assured of receiving special care at the moment when they are most vulnerable, during labour.
Maternal and child mortality rates in Zambia are a cause of worry for most women, thus the campaign to raise more awareness on the tissue. Though statistics might vary, the infant mortality rate stands at about 70 for every 1,000 live births while approximately 59,000 women die in child birth every year.
Thus the need to have as many qualified nurses as possible in order to achieve universal health care.
Having enough nurses will enable both parties enough time to establishing a therapeutic relationship which is vital, especially for a women in labour who is relying on the nurse for assurance that all will go well.
The underlying principles of the therapeutic relationship are the same regardless of the nature of the illness or condition of the patient. These are respect, genuineness, empathy, active listening, trust, and confidentiality. The purpose of the therapeutic relationship is to support the patient, to promote healing, and to support or enhance functioning.
However, this is difficult to achieve if the nurse is overburdened and has too many patients to attend to in any given day.
That is why it is important to train as many health personnel as possible.
I will end by also echoing Secretary to the Cabinet Roland Msiska’s call to the private sector to invest in training of health personnel to work at facilities Government is building countrywide.
Dr Msiska was speaking when he officially opened the Lusaka Apex Medical University lecture theatre in Roma township, where he said the increased infrastructure development in the health sector will also require the private sector to invest in training health personnel.
This is the quickest way we shall be able to attain Zambia’s vision of “having a nation of healthy and productive people.”
The author is senior sub editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.