A RENEWED VALUE FOR AFRICAN HEALTH WORKERS
Susana Edjang [Equatorial Guinea and Spain] is an international development, global health and peace and security expert. She is co-founding member of Afroinnova, an African diaspora innovation platform, member of the Council of the UK’S Royal African Society and member of the Governing Council of Africa 2.0.
African countries have made good progress reducing mortality and prolonging life since the 1970s. Through government commitments such as the Abuja Declaration, where they pledged to allocate 15% of national expenditure to health; strategies for the scaling up and promotion of mid-level health workers; and supporting a WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel they have strengthened health systems, reducing the burden of disease across the continent, and strengthened its health workforce.
By the time COVID-19 hit the world, the global health workforce amounted to about 43 million people, unevenly distributed around the world. Most of these are concentrated in Western countries, but within Africa there remains great disparities and shortfalls: To achieve the SDG goals of 4.5 health workers per 1000 population (from an average 1.30 in Africa today), an extra 6.1 million more health workers need to be recruited and trained.
The backbone of any health system is its nurses. The 2020 WHO’s State of the World Nursing Report estimates there are globally 27.9 million nurses, constituting nearly 60% of the health workforce. In Africa, as around the world, nursing is mainly a female profession – with men forming 24% of the industry - but where are the voices of nurses represented? Even in the times of COVID-19, when 13 out of 54 African countries (laudably) have female health ministers, nurses are seldom heard.
2020 is the first year of Nursing Now’s global campaign to raise the profile and status of nurses so that African nursing voices can be found. It is also the WHO’s International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. Both of these mean 2020 is the year at the heart of African health systems. Overcoming COVID-19 and moving beyond it will occur through sustained and enhanced progress on the education and employment of nurses, creating employment and leadership opportunities.