Nurses and midwives the backbone of our healthcare

Healthcare workers at Tygerberg Hospital marked International Nurses' Day by taking to the streets to express their grievances about the conditions under which they work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Healthcare workers at Tygerberg Hospital marked International Nurses' Day by taking to the streets to express their grievances about the conditions under which they work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: Esa Alexander

May 12 is International Nurses Day, and 2020 is the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, as declared by the World Health Organisation.

As the world battles the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems prescient that, in early 2019, the WHO declared 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

The intention of both the Year of the Nurse and Midwife and International Nurses Day (commemorated on May 12 annually) was to bring to light the profound impact that nurses and midwives have on the daily lives of the public. Nobody could have predicted that events in 2020 would so amplify and highlight the role nurses play across the globe.

Since its conception, nursing has been known to be both a science and an art. The history of nursing tells us that 2020 is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the first nurse scientist, who initiated the evolution of nursing. Thanks to her efforts, nurse scientists delved into the depths of science to position nursing as a profession. Now, across the globe, the nursing profession is rooted in its duty to humanity, as endorsed by the Nurses' Pledge of Service.

Closer to home, nursing in SA is guided by the philosophical beacons of light that form its core principles. Pioneered by Professor Charlotte Searle, they outline the myriad values that guide nursing activities and their service to humankind.

A belief that nurses are charged with responsibility for themselves and their patients;

Faith for inner strength to help them in their work;

A yearning to be a worthy servant of humanity;

Acceptance of the uniqueness of each human being and their health needs;

Transcending the nurse-patient relationship to one between human beings;

Conservation of human life through change;

Assistance and support to both patients and those rendering care;

The use of scientific skills in provision of care;

Therapeutic use of the self, as it is love made visible.

Throughout the ages, nurses and midwives have been on the frontline, coming up with practical solutions to solve real and relevant health problems. The trend traces back to the mid-19th century Crimean War, when a nurse advocated for basic sanitary practices to underscore medical assistance to injured soldiers.

We can trace through history how these extraordinary people continue to improve patient care and health outcomes. During the 1939 polio outbreak, again it was a nurse who recommended movement and physical therapy be integrated into the management of the disease.

During the Ebola outbreak, a nurse used what was at hand to protect herself while taking care of those infected.

The list can go on and on about what nurses and midwives are capable of as the backbone of our healthcare system. We know and believe that nurses and midwives change lives on a daily basis.

In this time of uncertainty, nurses will continue to hold the frontline as transdisciplinary teams around the world come up with fast-paced responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. Transdisciplinarity in healthcare provision has never been more important than now.

Through collective resilience and adaptability humankind will survive as we forge ahead into the unknown. We will defeat this life-threatening disease. Let us preach the means and ways to flatten the Covid-19 curve.

Despite the uncertainty, let us celebrate the Year of the Nurse and Midwife with hope and pride.

-Mogale is an associate professor in the Department of Nursing at the University of Pretoria

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