“We need the government to appreciate our professional health structure”

Nurses all across the world commemorate International Nurses Day on 12 May annually. This day also marks the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday.

Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare sector and a doctor’s most trusted ally because they spend more time with the patients.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) announced the 2023 International Nurses Day theme as Our Nurses. Our Future. According to the ICN President, Dr Pamela Cipriano the 2023 theme sets out what ICN wants for Nursing in the future in order to address the global health challenges and improve global health for all. “We need to learn from the lessons of the pandemic and translate these into actions for the future that ensure nurses are protected, respected and valued”, said Dr Cipriano.

The Lesotho Nurses Association has engaged all nurses in the country to celebrate on nurses’ day by participating in various sporting codes at Leshoboro stadium in Mafeteng. The event is free for all to watch and participation is open for volunteers in the health sector. To learn more about the association, we talk to Mr. Santi Morephe the secretary general of LNA.

First give us the founding objectives of the Lesotho Nurses Association. 

The objectives of LNA are firstly to represent nurses in all forums were representation is requested. Secondly to advocate for the interest of its members. Thirdly to train nurses on leadership and ensure there is good leadership among them. Fourthly it is to ensure professional development so that the nurse grow professionally. Lastly it is to engage nurses in research.

Why is it important for our country to recognize international nurses’ day?

International nurses’ day is very important to give us opportunity as a country to reflect on the value of nurses. Nursing is the single most important cadre within the ministry of health. It is referred to as the backbone of the healthcare system because from the very lowest point and the highest you find the nurses. Therefore, the role of nurses is critical.

International nurses follow a week after workers’ day where people celebrate contributions brought about by the workforce. We celebrate the achievements made by the nursing fraternity workforce. We remember the bold nurses who led the profession from the early days during world war era when nurses were succumbed to harsh working conditions. The nurses that fought hard and yielded to meaningful engagements leading to the better conditions we see today.

You agree that nurses are the backbone of the healthcare sector. Is that so in Lesotho?

Yes, we are the backbone of the country but those in government do not seem to appreciate this in terms that they are never willing to address our needs as a profession. They are very reluctant to approve our professional structure and our benefits as nurses. We work night shifts, awkward hours, we are always on call, but we feel we are most unappreciated since government is reluctant to give us allowance whereas with other professions they do without any challenges. At some point we feel only at the time of crisis nursing is remembered but all other times it is not. There have been talks before but they have never yielded into tangible actions.

In what way(s) does the LNA recognize the invaluable work done by village health workers?

In terms of the invaluable work done by the village health workers (VHW), we appreciate that in reaching the universal health coverage it takes everyone on board from the non-professional to the professional, other allied profession and support staff within the ministry of health. Therefore, the work done by the VHW is amazing and as nurses we work hand in hand with them. The VHW are based at the grassroots level in the communities and moving out of the communities are the health posts where the work of nurses begins within the country. These are the two levels of nursing in the country. Although the VHW are not called nurses, we recognize them as very valuable within the health care system and we have been working with them from the early stages when their program was founded. They are mostly supervised by nurses and there are never critical challenges nurses face with regards to their work. However, going up the hierarchy it is saddening their contribution seems to have never been recognized by government. There is apparently little recognition towards VHW, this is so because one wonders why the government fails to pay them allowances or at least provide stipends on time.

Looking at the 2023 theme, nurses are the future. What is the country doing to ensure the future of Lesotho nurses is guaranteed and secured?

Unpacking the 2023 theme, it typically says the future of our healthcare system remains critical for the nurses. So the role that the nurses played during covid-19 throughout the world demonstrated how nurses are important in the healthcare system and even in the future they should remain very important. This is to show the government that the nursing profession remains the future of its country. If the country wants to defeat some of the challenges they are going through they should put nursing as the focal point. Remembering the early days of HIV in Lesotho when it was led by doctors, little progress was achieved until the ministry put the nurses in the forefront of the scourge of the HIV pandemic and it made great strides hence we are saying nurses are the future Government must recognize us, employ more nurses and retain more nurses within the healthcare sector to avoid seeing them leave the country to seek foreign employment.

How is the country celebrating international nurses day this year?

For 2023 we are saying after a long time faced with the covid-19 pandemic we should revitalize. As we speak there are so many nurses reacting to the post covid-19 syndrome which is normally fatigue and depression that comes with that. We are therefore looking at nurses to go out to engage in sports. For this year we shall be in Mafeteng stadium engaging in all sport codes with the aim of bringing nurses together to play. Our focus it to put nurses on the forefront and we do appreciate other professional health workers to come and support.

Message you want to give Basotho about the day

We wish the country could just appreciate and recognize nursing profession within the country, remember how we together with them overcame covid-19 in the country and join us in advocating for better working conditions, we need the government to appreciate our professional health structure, our benefit package so that we are retained. Most of our country’s nurses are intending to leave due to poor compensation while others are at diploma level earning so very little they cannot afford to improve their skills therefore the government should invest in their education further. We need more nurses with degrees, masters and PHD levels and they must be retained in the nursing practice to ensure there is improved health service delivery. There is high fatigue among nurses coupled with lack of motivation to retain them.