South African nurses are particularly valuable, because of their experience with a vast burden of disease. Anyone who has visited a health care facility before will know that interaction with a doctor is limited to a few short minutes and revolves around what is medically wrong. It is most often a nurse who checks on you regularly, and builds the personal connection that makes you feel cared for. Many South Africans feel the benefit of their work every day – both in hospitals and in their communities where nurses are regarded as a source of medical support and information. Yet for many nurses, holding down a single job is not an option. An estimated 70 percent of nurses in South Africa do additional work after hours including moonlighting, working overtime, or doing agency work resulting in nurses being overworked and often suffer from burnout. When nurses are overworked and underpaid it means that those who care for us are not being cared for.
Only 68 105 of the 133 127 registered professional nurses work in the public health system. The prioritisation of primary health care services in communities means that many nurses who qualify are deployed to work in clinics rather than hospitals, and in some instances report substandard working conditions, and a lack of decision making power. It’s difficult to provide quality care, if you don’t have the support and equipment that’s needed.
In February 2016 hundreds of nurses protested over their pay and poor working conditions. Many others leave South Africa to work for foreign agencies who value their experiences to earn a better salary and work under better conditions. This is indicative of a health system that does not remunerate nurses well enough for their primary job to sustain them, resulting in shortage of nurses countrywide. Due to the challenges experienced by nurses it’s unsurprising then that as of 2015 there was a declining interest in the nursing career. However, South Africa needs nurses to fill the gap between patients and the health care system. Thus, the development of partnership with NGO’s to recognise the value of nurses and to provide much needed training to enhance service delivery to support, is essential.
JPS Africa forms one of the many partners committed to training, empowering, and providing support to nurses. JPS Africa provides a number of training courses that will assist nurses in performing their daily duties, namely: The JPS Africa Family Planning Project that includes training nurses on the proper procedure to insert and remove Sub-Dermal Contraceptive Implants, which speeds up women’s access to control over their reproductive health, and reduces their need to return to health facilities as often. In 2014 alone, nurses were able to reach 2 462 clients in Kwazulu Natal and the Northern Cape (where JPS Africa is currently contracted to deliver the services). JPS Africa also trains nurses to better support the initiation and management of MDR TB treatment, and to collect data on patients using the mHealth solution application.
The South Africa health system and its partners can work to upskill nurses and enable them to perform procedures that doctors would normally have to perform. This is not only cost-effective and efficient, it also indicates that nurses are valued, can perform complex and important work, and provides them with the educational support they need to keep South Africans healthy.