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Shortage of nurses: threat to Africa’s progress in Universal Health Coverage


By Princess-Ekwi Ajide, Abuja

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, says, WHO African Region has long grappled with a severe shortage of nurses which, if left unaddressed, poses a significant threat to the region’s progress towards Universal Health Coverage.

Dr. Moeti, who spoke on the International Nurses Day 2022, said the latest estimate, shows there are 1.6 million nurses and midwives across 47 African States and a total 66% of nurses are concentrated in six countries namely, Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa.

The Regional Director stressed that Nigeria has the highest share of the headcount of nurses at 21%, followed by South Africa at 18% while the world needs 9 million additional nurses and midwives to realize the health-related global Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

WHO in Africa’s analysis has identified a threshold of about 60 nurses and midwives per 10 000 people as a critical point for attaining at least 70% of the Universal Health service coverage index whereas currently, most countries have fewer than 20 nurses, with the number dropping way below even that for many across the continent.

She said nurses have a critical role to play in Primary Health Care delivery, as they are often the first and sometimes, the only health professional a patient will see adding that they contribute to research, disease prevention, treat the injured, administer palliative care, and more hence they are regarded the true unsung heroes on the front lines of disease prevention and care.

Dr. Moeti, commended nurses who in the face of the global health emergency-COVID-19, made great sacrifices, acted courageously and recommitted daily to tackle a global health threat that is unprecedented in modern times, serving as an indispensable pillar supporting African health care systems through some very challenging times.

She called on African governments to commit the necessary investment to help improve the attractiveness of the nursing profession, through provision of proper equipment, better working conditions, appropriate education, upskilling opportunities, and job creation saying that nursing leadership also needs to be optimized, with chief nursing and midwifery officers mandated to drive the nursing agenda across education, employment, policy and practice.

“Around 80% of primary health care can be delivered by nurses, and the COVID-19 pandemic has served as an important platform to reiterate how integral nurses are to the maintenance of routine health care delivery, while also responding to a global crisis so, investing in nurses and midwives is good value for money”. She said.

International Nurses’ Day is celebrated annually on 12 May in memory of the birth of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, but also to honour nurses as an invaluable resource, and raise awareness of the challenges they face.


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