Nurses can be described as the “backbone” of the healthcare system. At the African Paediatric Fellowship Programme (APFP) colloquium, held at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in February, Associate Professor Minette Coetzee addressed an audience of equally respected, healthcare professionals from across the African continent. Her message was simple: in order to reach the goal of improving the health of children, as well as a sustainable workforce, we need skilled nurses.
In Southern Africa, approximately half of the total population is made up of children and infant mortality is high across Africa. This is due to many factors not least the lack of expert healthcare specialists. In 2007 South Africa was the only country on the entire African continent that was training paediatric nurses. According to Prof Coetzee this was a shocking reality, especially when one takes into account the number of children who live on the continent.
In 2008 the Child Nurse Practice Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town (UCT) was established in order to combat this harsh reality in Africa. The programme essentially has three goals; building children’s nursing in Africa, for Africa, building the evidence base for good local practice and building capacity. Since its establishment around seven years ago, the programme has successfully trained 245 child nurses from nine different African countries, all of whom have returned to their home countries to work.
Apart from training paediatric nurse specialists in South Africa, the programme also focuses on creating paediatric nurse training hubs in other African countries. This is imperative, because each country faces their own unique challenges in the paediatric field and this is where research on local practices plays a major role. Therefore, developing good evidence base for effective local practices is really important and according to Prof Coetzee, some of this has been about working alongside APFP fellows and graduates.
One key success story of the Child Nurse Practice Development Initiative is that of Malawi. In collaboration with the University of Malawi, the programme launched the first Master of Child Health Nursing in Africa. The training commenced in 2010, with the programme getting accredited in 2012. After further course development the new hub in Malawi was established and this new in-country training centre now trains approximately 50 – 60 paediatric child healthcare nurses per year. The second Masters programme in childrens nursing started training clinical specalist nurses at UCT and the Children’s Hospital this year.
The need for Paediatric nurses in Africa is a need we can no longer ignore. Nurses provide the care needed for children to sustain their health during sickness, as well as through recovery. However, this is not the only role that a paediatric nurse takes on. According to Prof Coetzee nurses provide that much needed support in the healthcare process and without that support, the system will simply not work. Skilled nurses are also an interface in most of these systems, whether it be between healthcare workers and clinics or the clinics and patients.
When asked the question of “what is nursing?” many paediatric nurses from across the African continent responded by explaining that they are “not just nurses” but rather, they are “educators”, “councillors”, “pain relievers”, “a mother”, “the protector” “a hero” and “a friend”.
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