Nursing in Africa

In large parts of Africa, decades of war, conflict and instability have left its people with limited access to basic healthcare services. This is aggravated by the fact that the continent carries 25% of the global disease burden and the lowest number of global healthcare worker per capita.
The challenges that impact healthcare service delivery in Africa include (but are obviously not limited to) lacking infrastructure, poor management, lacking equipment, variable care standards and supply chain issues. In 2001, in an attempt to address some of these challenges, the countries belonging to the African Union (AU) committed to allocate 15% of their fiscal budget to healthcare (Abuja declaration 2001). Sadly only six countries succeeded in doing that. It is estimated that even if all of the AU countries allocated 15%, the size of their budgets are simply not enough to address and overcome some of the challenges that face healthcare systems in Africa.
The budget size and lack of allocation or investment in healthcare leads to another problem: dependency on donor funding. Unfortunately donor funding comes with vested interests and may inadvertently contribute to the vertical development of disease specific fields at the expense of horizontal or strengthening of the whole health system. A good example of this is HIV research that across the continent is disproportionately represented and funded.
Because the burden of disease and the demand for healthcare services that’s continuously rising, larger budgets and more healthcare workers are required. Alarmingly statistics demonstrates that in some African countries there has been a decline in the number of healthcare workers over the past twenty years. In addition, there is a known distribution of healthcare workers towards urban areas, leaving rural areas without adequate healthcare delivery structures and staffing.
In most of Africa, the first healthcare worker to provide care to a patient is a nurse (WHO2008). With nurses being the mostly widely spread and available health professionals on the continent, their role cannot be overestimated. Creating more enabling environments for nurses to be educated and work in better conditions should be prioritized. A few issues that seem to be universal to the ability of nurses to perform in Africa are highlighted below. These issues draw on my experience and my conversations with local nurses in the settings in which I’ve worked.
Quality and appropriateness of nurse training
Formal nursing education was brought to Africa by imperialism. This implies that the people who brought formal nursing education to Africa introduced it in a similar way to how it was done in the countries that they came from. Most of these models were (and still are) based on training nurses in-hospital and where one of the primary roles of the nurse is as team member with a medical doctor and others. This is very different from community based care that’s prevalent and required in rural Africa. In most of Africa, the nurse is often a solo practitioner that’s far from hospitals and other team members. The training of the nurses should prepare them for such roles and situations.
Clinical and educational gaps can be identified by furthering research, especially nursing science research in Africa. This then allows the design of curriculum’s that are contextually relevant to the needs of the continent. This is, however, complicated by other issues, namely:

Limited research on indigenous diseases in Africa
Most of the infectious diseases that are endemic to Africa such as schistosomiasis or trypanosomiasis are not well-researched. With limited evidence based guidance, there can be no best nursing practice for these endemic diseases.
The fields that are researched are according to donor specialization and interest. Sun and Larson (2015) did a review of all nursing research from Africa that was published over a decade and found that the most studied areas were associated with funding resources. They also found that prevalent conditions in Africa e.g. malnutrition, diarrhoea disease and other common causes of death were not studied and/or published. This demonstrated a clear gap between the healthcare needs and the fields researched.
Nursing research needs to focus and address the glaring healthcare issues in Africa. Often care in villages is rendered by persons with no training in healthcare, and addressing issues like the need for reliable community based care when developing curriculums or conducting research could impact the health systems tremendously.

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Training facilities
Training facilities across Africa lack enough classrooms, electricity, running tap water and technological advances. Internet has been reported as a scarce resource across various training settings in Africa. The access to electronic resources is limiting for both students and educators. Open-access resources have helped to make science more accessible globally, but there is still a high cost to obtaining research and information making it incredibly tough to stay abreast of new guidelines, especially for nurses in Africa.
Clinical guidance in hospitals is lacking and there are limited simulation models at training facilities. At some of the facilities where I’ve conducted training there have been no CPR manikin’s or other additional models for training. In most places we had to innovate and make our own manikins and other adjuncts.
For healthcare workers in rural areas, obtaining further education or refresher training means uprooting and even leaving a healthcare facility unattended for the duration of their training. This should be considered when we think about educating and upskilling nurses.
Knock-on impact of the doctor shortage in Africa
The lack of doctors, especially in rural areas has resulted in task shifting. Task shifting occurs when tasks that would normally be seen as the doctors’ domain, are shifted to nurses. It increases the nurses’ workload and the nurses are expected to perform tasks that they have not received training for.
The distribution of health facilities and different tiers of care means that the large drainage areas in the rural districts are often manned by nurses without any further medical support close by. This means that the nurses working in rural areas are isolated when dealing with cases that are not within their scope of practice, limited clinical guidelines and difficulty in obtaining help. Telemedicine and technology may offer some solutions provided that it can be reliable in areas with limited electricity, currently no internet etc.

Regulatory issues
In many African countries, graduates are not subject to registration with a statutory body. There may be professional associations, but there is no compulsory registration process and professional licensing. In countries with no regulatory body, there is no representation to lobby for nursing rights or amendments to Acts of Parliament, salaries for nurses or to promote career progression.
Often healthcare worker salaries (including doctors) are not paid on time, if at all. This leads to some healthcare workers having secondary streams of income or funding their own incomes out of privately charging patients’ higher fees.
Gender inequality
In most African societies, gender equality has not yet been achieved. Women receive less education than men, they have less rights and their voice are not heard in the same way. Nursing remains a predominantly female profession and this limits the ability of nurses to assert themselves and it impacts on the ability of the profession to influence national policy.
There is a trend where even though the nurse workforce is mainly female at service delivery level, at top management and policy level it’s represented by men. In the DRC it was established that only 1% of the nurses are male, yet more than 90% of the top levels and education facilities positions are filled by men.
The social determinants allowing people to access healthcare includes basic primary education and gender equity amongst other factors. Sadly neither one of these has been achieved for nurses in Africa and it hampers the progress of nursing education and research across the continent.
Career progression
This tie in with the above, and the fact that because of the role of women in society, nurses being mostly female and the difficulties faced by nurses to render care, career progression may be stunted. Because healthcare workers in rural areas need to travel to further education and because nurses are predominantly women, it is hard for them to leave home and obligations at home to further their career.
Lack of mentorship and language barriers
There is a lack of mentorship to help nurses further themselves as researchers and educators. Organizations such as the AFEM Nurses Group developed a mentorship program with international mentorship support to African nurses. Another program is the Nursing Education Partnership Initiative (NEPI) that was formed in 2011 by PEPFAR to improve nursing and midwifery education in Africa. We need more programs like this.
Mentorship, inclusion into global healthcare networks, research and education are complicated by language barriers. Often nurses working in rural areas do not read or speak English; the language which much of the training material and research is presented in.
Conflict
It has been postulated that there’s a statistically significant relationship between accessibility to care and civil conflict (Rhode 2015). Unrest and conflict creates havoc on the ability to deliver healthcare, train providers, obtain supplies and in violent prone areas access may be restricted as patients are afraid of travelling. During periods of increased violence, the healthcare facilities are looted and healthcare workers intimidated. In violent prone areas, malnutrition is aggravated, harvests are regularly pillaged and access to fields is restricted due to security conditions.
Conclusion
There are various challenges to improving the fragile healthcare systems in Africa. Nurses form the backbone of healthcare service delivery in Africa. The difficulties faced by nurses across the continent are only one challenge; improving dilapidated health facilities and improving on the poor distribution of essential medicines and supplies are other challenges.
In order to improve healthcare systems, nurses needs to be more involved in policy-making, developing healthcare plans and research.

Please note: Africa is not a country and in some of the African countries, the health system is well-established and working. In other’s it’s not going that well. I’m aware that this blog makes blanket statements, however it refers to my experiences and conversations in the country’s that I have travelled to.

References
Munjana OK, Kibuka S, Dovlo D. (2005) The nursing workforce in Sub-Saharan Africa. Issue paper no 7. International Council of Nurses.
Sun C. Larson E. (2015) Clinical nursing and midwifery research in African countries: a scoping review. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 2015 May;52(5):1011-6. doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2015.01.012.
http://www.our-africa.org/women
http://www.who.int/healthsystems/publications/abuja_declaration/en/
Rohde JT. (2015). The relationship between Access to Healthcare and Civil conflict. College of William and Mary. Honors Theses. Paper 99
Abuja Declaration 2001
Klopper HK, Uys LR. 2012. State of Nursing and Nursing Education in Africa: a country by country review. Sigma Theta Tau international
The nursing Education Partnership Initiative in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (2012). Assessment of nursing and midwifery education and training capacity at seven training institutes in the DRC. Synthesis report. Prepared by CapacityPlus, Intrahealth International

Gugu Zulu: Another story about the barriers to access emergency care in Africa

In Africa, surviving serious illness or injury is like participating in Survivor.  In order to survive, people need to outwit, outlast and outplay the health system.

The death of the fit, apparently healthy 38-year old Gugu Zulu made news headlines. The events leading to his death are tragic. Zulu, a well-known South African personality died during the Trek4Mandela Kilimanjaro expedition that raises awareness for the #keepingagirlchildinschool movement.

Details on the descent that were supposed to improve Zulu’s condition and allow for further care are sketchy. The timeline in the media reports differ, some saying that it took 4 hours to cover 32 km on a bicycle stretcher, others say 8 hours.  Still, how terrifying the experience must’ve been for his wife that remained at his side throughout the journey.  Despite discrepancies in timelines and the exact cause of death still pending autopsy results, it appears that the lack of timely access to further emergency care was a contributing factor leading to his death.

Photo%20of%20the%20Week%20(15.10.26)%20Kilimanjaro%202011%20porter%20w%20stretcher

Example of the bicycle stretchers used in Kilimanjaro

 

Gugu Zulu required urgent emergency care, and he died because he couldn’t get to care. Sadly, the story repeats itself in various African settings on a daily basis where people frequently die because of health system failures. They die because there is no available transport to the health facilities, which are too far apart and ill-equipped.  They die because care is unaffordable and healthcare staff are not trained to deal with emergencies.  And they die because there are no out-of-hospital care systems (see earlier blogs on access to care and EFAR).

In Zulu’s case (and depending on the route taken) the closest appropriate facility was about 50km away from the National Park. The Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Clinic (KCMC) is a 600 bed facility and it has an emergency care department that doubles as outpatient clinic. It serves the healthcare needs of 15 million people. Time, geographical accessibility and method of transport appears to have been bigger issues contributing to his death than only the availability of an appropriate facility.

The effectiveness of emergency care is dependent on time. The following definition for emergency care was agreed upon at the African Federation for Emergency Medicine (AFEM) consensus conference in April this year: ‘emergency health conditions are those requiring rapid intervention to avert death or disability, and those for which treatment delays of hours or less make interventions less effective.’

Obtaining care for emergency health conditions are a challenge in Tanzania.  The country has a doctor to patient ratio of 2 per 100 000 people. Another constraint as highlighted in this case is the lack of formal out-of-hospital services. Formal systems would facilitate the delivery of care at site of injury/illness and continued care during transportation.

That said, Tanzania is one of the very few African countries that has emergency medicine residency and emergency nursing programmes. Local emergency care practitioners have been supported by international faculty to share expertise.  In 2011 the Emergency Medicine Association of Tanzania (EMAT) was formed.  This organisation works closely with the government to prioritise emergency care and to development emergency care.  EMAT and AFEM works closely together to advocate for the unrestricted access to emergency health care.

Ensuring unrestricted access to emergency care by developing sustainable systems requires awareness and funding.  Sadly, emergency care does not yet share a similar status to that of high-profile diseases like HIV, TB and Malaria.  People are aware of the high-profile diseases and thus they are well-funded and promoted.

The death of Gugu Zulu begs the important question, can global stakeholders in health care continue to ignore the importance of developing strong emergency care and out-of-hospital care systems?

As Olive Kobusingye says,

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In future, the stories told in Africa will depend on how well we advocate and continue building emergency healthcare systems.

P.S. I would like to share an idea that we’ve been talking about since the WHO Basic Emergency Course last year. The idea is to travel from clinic to clinic through some countries that has ties with AFEM by cycling and/or using the method of transport that the different communities would use to access care. The purpose is to raise the awareness of how hard it is to obtain emergency care.  I would welcome some ideas on how we could make such an undertaking work. 

Further reading

Gugu Zulu

https://www.ecr.co.za/news-sport/news/small-medical-facility-needed-mount-kilimanjaro-letshego-zulu/

http://www.msn.com/en-za/news/localnews/gugu-zulus-wife-pleads-for-mini-medical-facility-to-be-erected-on-mount-kilimanjaro/ar-BBuZ6G2?li=AAaxc0E&ocid=spartandhp

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/David_Irwin3/publication/267102897_A_Retrospective_Study_of_Acute_Mountain_Sickness_on_Mt._Kilimanjaro_Using_Trekking_Company_Data/links/54da49c70cf233119bc29c23.pdf

http://www.iol.co.za/motoring/industry-news/gugu-zulus-death-is-a-blight-on-tanzania-2049525

http://www.iol.co.za/motoring/industry-news/kilimanjaro-tragedy-the-inside-story-2047032

Emergency care

http://www.afem.info/

http://www.emat.or.tz/

http://www.kcmc.ac.tz/index.php?q=casuality

http://www.epijournal.com/articles/167/hendry-sawe-young-leaders-bring-fresh-energy-to-african-emergency-medicine

Transitions in care and other fuzzy boundaries: Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia

Please note that the following blog are my views and observations. It does not represent the views of AFEM or WHO.

Healthcare systems are complex and there is no one-size-fit-all way to strengthen it.  It’s up to each country to develop a sustainable healthcare system according to need, available resources and setting.

The WHO is developing a Basic Emergency Care course.  I was part of the team testing the course. The first pilot was held in Uganda, with facilitators from Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa.  More pilots was held in Tanzania and Zambia with local participants, from various geographical settings and different tiers within the health system.

The handover exchange was one of the most valuable discussion points. Shared patterns and concerns emerged. Some of the key discussion points:

Fuzzy boundaries

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) a healthcare system encompasses all organisations, people and actions with the primary intent to promote, restore or maintain health.

In Uganda and Zambia the first tier of care delivery, especially in rural areas are provided by community first aiders.  If required the patient is referred to healthcare professionals. This highlights the value of the Basic Emergency Care course and other elementary courses.

Thus a health system is more than the publicly owned facilities. If first aiders are providing basic care prior to referral; when do they become part of the formal system?  Where is the boundary?  It appears as if the informal care rendered are already “formalised” and established?

Taxies are a common transport method for ill or injured patients.  Thus taxi drivers are an important part of the emergency care system.

Fuzzy boundaries complicates governance and accountability. For example; if the boundaries are not clear how can regulations and best practice be disseminated? And who should be trained?

Transitions in care

Often there is limited out-of-hospital facilities e.g. ambulances and trained practitioners to accompany the patient.  Hence patients are transported via public transport (taxi, etc.) or if by ambulance accompanied by only the driver.  This limits the handover information and complicates continuity of care. Not to mention that the patient condition may detoriate during transit.

Some of the shared issues here was: pre-warning of referral, letter of referral and information regarding cost.  In Zambia; the pre-warning phone call is merely a courtesy as higher tier facilities may not refuse a patient.

Patients are referred from tier to tier.  Despite some benefits to such a rigid system, it creates a barrier when higher level care is required than what the next tier are able to render.

Participants requested feedback, stating that once a patient has left their facility they do not receive any feedback. This creates an opportunity for improvement and training opportunities.

Out-of-pocket expenditure

There is financial costs associated with referral. Patients/family members are expected to pay for certain procedures upfront or to purchase items from pharmacies that are not on the hospital grounds.  Who is responsible for the conversation regarding possible costs associated with the transfer? And what happens if it is unaffordable?  This is a tough one.  It is unreasonable to expect the referring facilities to know the potential costs and conduct the conversation. Yet it is unreasonable to commence dialogue regarding cost on arrival of the patient at the referral facility; this might inadvertently force a catastrophic expenditure as the patient/family might feel that there is no choice regarding expenditure.

Summary

Developing emergency care and enabling access to care is still not prioritised in most of Africa. Perhaps these discussions sounds trivial in a world filled with HIV, TB and other well-funded diseases.  Still, if the patient do not receive adequate and timeous emergency care, the patient dies.

Tolstoy said that happy families are all alike, and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.  Just like happy families are alike, health care systems in African countries are all alike.  And so is emergency care systems…In each of the countries visited, the practitioners are relentlessly improving the delivery of emergency care; doing tremendous work with limited resources.

Organisations such as AFEM creates a platform for collaboration across the African continent. Collaborative networks are crucial to advocate for and advance emergency care.  These networks fulfils an important function providing support.  It’s been a month since the first pilot.  On most days of this month there has been messages of motivation and support between the facilitators of the different countries.  The importance of these networks should not be underestimated.

When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.’ Ethiopian proverb

Post note

It’s been a privilege to participate in the three WHO pilot sessions.  Thank You AFEM for creating the opportunity.

Read more

http://www.afem.info

Who.int/healthsystems/strategy/everybodys_business.pdf   strengthening health systems to improve health outcomes.  WHO’s Framework for action.  (2007)