To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated 2020 as ‘International Year of the Nurse and Midwife’ to pay a well-deserved tribute to one of the most important professions which has sadly lost its glory.
Despite the critical role they play in Uganda, nurses and midwives are treated badly by the corrupt and decadent regime which has been imposed on Ugandans by deceit and force for almost 35 years.
This opinion is dedicated to nurses and midwives of Uganda, past and present, who have served and continue to serve Ugandans diligently and professionally for little pay and under difficult circumstances and whose services are not appreciated by the government of Uganda.
To mention but a few, Sister Jane Alezuyo, Sister Florence Drijaru, Sister Beatrice Angumaniyo and Sister Mary Akoma (RIP). May God reward them abundantly!
Nightingale was the pioneer of the principles of modern nursing and hospital sanitation. She founded the first nursing school at a hospital in London, England, in 1860. She was the first woman to be admitted to the prestigious Royal Statistical Society.
Nurses and midwives play a critical role in providing health services.
According to WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus, “Nurses and midwives are the backbone of every health system. In 2020, we are calling on all countries to invest in nurses and midwives as part of their commitment to health for all.”
Nursing has undergone significant changes since the times of Nightingale. Nurses of today perform duties which are traditionally reserved for medical doctors. In Britain, nurses now perform some types of abdominal, orthopaedic and cardiac surgery.
In USA anaesthetics given to patients are routinely administered by nurses. In many African countries nurses have been trained to perform emergency caesarean sections on pregnant women.
WHO estimates that the world needs 18 million more health workers to achieve and sustain universal health coverage by 2030, half of the shortfall in health workers, i.e. nine million are nurses and midwives.
The primary challenge facing healthcare workers of Uganda, especially nurses and midwives, is lack of adequate resources, a result of the fact that the health sector has since 1986 not been accorded the highest priority it deserves.
The Abuja Declaration of 2001 commits all AU member states, including Uganda, to allocate at least 15 per cent of their annual budget to improve the health sector.
For the 2020/2021FY Uganda’s budgetary allocation for the health sector is a meagre six per cent, which is insufficient, irresponsible and unacceptable.
The priority of the corrupt, decadent and violent NRM regime is the military and police, who are routinely misused to intimidate, harass, torture, subdue and even kill harmless and unarmed Ugandans.
Second, the conditions and terms of service of nurses, midwives and doctors are appalling, miserable and unacceptable for the demanding and important work they perform for Uganda.
Morale of staff is low. The quality of equipment in government hospitals is poor. Salaries of midwives are the lowest among healthcare professionals. They deserve better.
On a sad note, death has robbed Uganda of my dear friend and colleague, Ambassador William Naggaga, who passed on at a Nairobi hospital on December 5. Naggaga was a distinguished career diplomat who served Uganda diligently at Uganda missions in New York, Geneva, London and Addis Ababa. May his soul rest in eternal peace!
Mr Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat.