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‘Pakistan faces acute shortage of nurses’

KARACHI   –  Pakistan’s nurses and midwives are playing a vital role on the frontlines of the COVID-19 third wave despite the ongoing shortage of healthcare professionals in the country, said policymakers and academics at a seminar at Aga Khan University (AKU) held to celebrate the International Day of Nurses and Midwives on Tuesday.

While recognising how nurses have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve the public during the pandemic, Sindh Chief Minister (CM) Murad Ali Shah, the chief guest at the event, noted that demand for nurses worldwide was increasing which was creating incentives for nurses in Pakistan to move abroad.

He said: “We are mindful of the fact that due to the global shortage of nurses, the demand worldwide has increased which is giving our nurses the opportunity to migrate to high-income countries to improve their quality of life. This is definitely something we don’t want to happen as in Pakistan there was already a shortage of 1.3 million nurses before the pandemic.”

“Pakistan has one of the greatest shortages of trained high-quality nurses,” said Dr Faisal Sultan, special assistant to the prime minister on health. “No healthcare system can deliver quality care without the input of trained, committed professionals in the nursing field.”

Dr Sultan added that the government’s national health taskforce was working to expand the education and training of nurses to ensure that the country’s nursing workforce continues to grow. In a recorded message, Sindh health minister Dr Azra Pechuho said that one of the reasons behind Pakistan’s shortage of nurses is that too few women were seeking admission to the profession.

Speakers at the event also noted that limited career pathways for nurses, inadequate compensation and respect, and unsafe work environments were some of the factors behind people leaving the profession or choosing to practice abroad. They added that Pakistan is one of the five countries facing the largest deficits of nurses with the World Health Organisation (WHO) also calling on the country to take steps to double its nursing workforce.

“Nurses have grown used to double shifts, no days offs and living at hospitals during the pandemic to keep the public safe,” said AKU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery Dean Professor Rozina Karmaliani. “They are also working at vaccination centres, hosting capacity building drives for their colleagues, volunteering at field isolation centres, as well as managing tele-clinics, hotlines and home-health initiatives. Despite being stretched, they are striving to do their best.”

Commenting on the steps needed to retain and encourage nurses to stay in the workforce, experts highlighted the need to promote Advanced Practice Nursing, APN, qualifications that enhance the skills of nurses and enable them to widen their scope of practice. This would involve the granting of licenses to nurses and midwives with specialist qualifications enabling them to run their own clinics.

For example, an advanced practice registered nurse, who has specialised in non-communicable diseases, would be able to run his/her own tele-clinic or community clinic to care for patients with high blood pressure. Holding a license would enable them to provide a higher level of care by permitting them to diagnose and treat patients as well as prescribe drugs. However, APNs would continue to refer complications to specialists. Granting regulatory approval for APNs would enable nurses and midwives to make a greater impact in fields such as maternal health, mental health, child care and non-communicable diseases, said speakers.

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