By Dr. Eunice Ndirangu, Interim Dean, Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery, East Africa
The World Bank estimates that globally over one billion people lack accessible and affordable health care, with a large percentage of these people residing in sub-Saharan Africa. In many areas in East Africa, nurses and midwives make up nearly 85% of the health workforce, and are the patient’s first and closest point of care.
For nearly two decades, the Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery, East Africa (AKU-SONAM EA) has been dedicated to training and educating nurses and midwives in the region. We have consistently provided high-quality programmes to our students, with the overall aim of generating the largest ripple effect of positive impact across the entire East African healthcare landscape – from local communities to government ministries.
Our programmes are repeatedly evaluated to ensure relevancy in the ever-changing health context of the region. In Zanzibar, less than 10% of all healthcare facilities offer emergency obstetric and neonatal care. With numbers like these, the impact and need for each individual nurse and midwife becomes increasingly crucial. For this reason, our work-study programmes allow students to remain employed, in-service nurses and midwives throughout their studies. Their impact is ongoing and subsequently after graduation, a vast majority of alumni (more than 90%) remain in their communities, filling the aforementioned service gaps.
When alumni remain in their communities after graduation, their impact is felt from the family unit to the policy sphere because they are uniquely qualified to recognise systemic issues, and then properly address them. For instance, AKU-SONAM EA alumna Rose Kiwanuka realised those suffering from life-limiting illnesses were often left in the margins of health care, so she decided to do something about it. Her care for patients who are on their deathbeds led her to become the first palliative care nurse in Uganda, and then eventually to create the Palliative Care Association of Uganda. And much like Rose, Mtani Chilindi (photo) identified a gap in care and created a solution. He recognised the need for affordable health care in rural areas and now his company, Mtani Dispensaries and Investments, employs over 200 people and serves those in the most underserved areas of Tanzania. Mtani found a way to benefit himself, his family, the nurses he employs, the communities they serve and by extension, his country. Both alumni took their training and expanded on it. They had the confidence, innovation and resolve to identify healthcare dilemmas in their own communities, and then take action to address them.
Nurses and midwives serve their communities and countries at all levels. They treat and advocate for their patients at their bedsides in both healthcare facilities and in their own homes. They are leaders and innovators who look for solutions to complex and everyday problems, all while advocating for the respectful care of their patients.
And so, as we join global communities this month to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of nurses and midwives, we feel a deep sense of privilege to do the work that we do with the people that we do it with. We are incredibly grateful to our partners and donors who continue to support this important work, as well as to our students and alumni because the ways in which they serve their communities are nothing short of inspiring. They serve as a reminder that applying compassion, humility and strength to everyday life can lead to lasting impact. We are left with a renewed sense of hope and appreciation for our work. To all nurses and midwives – thank you for all that you do!