Karachi, November 18, 2016: Pakistan now has nurses with the advanced research and clinical skills needed to solve the root causes of poor health, gender inequality and under-development in society, said experts at the International Conference on Nurses and Midwives at the Aga Khan University on Friday.
Speakers at the two-day event Nurses and Midwives: Transforming Healthcare Systems from Local to Global noted that today’s nurses hold management positions in hospitals, lead research in community health initiatives across the country, advise on national and regional guidelines that shape curriculums, and conduct educational programmes that develop the next generation of nursing leaders.
Conference Chair Professor Rozina Karmaliani stated that the breadth and depth of skills held by today’s nurses and midwives are enabling Pakistan to secure the social determinants of health – the set of forces, norms and systems that shape the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age – which help meet the country’s commitments to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Many of the SDG commitments primarily concern women such as maternal mortality, infant mortality, gender equality and domestic violence, she added.
In her keynote speech Uncovering Voices, Empowering Women: The Key to Sustainable Development, Dr Afaf Meleis, Professor of Nursing and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, expanded on this idea. She explained how major targets under the SDGs placed an emphasis on women’s empowerment and how they are intimately related to nursing.
“There is a gender divide across the world that makes women socially, culturally and biologically at higher risk of morbidity, mortality and inferior quality of life. Unequal access to healthcare, unfairness in economic opportunities and the vulnerable status of many women in society opens up opportunities for nurses and midwives to support, educate and empower women throughout their lives,” said Professor Meleis.
Professor Meleis added that nurses and midwives are instrumental in supporting maternal and child health goals tied to SDG 3. Beyond their medical role, their work in communities makes them aware of economic and social challenges. This enables them to apply their education in public health research to investigate effective forms of health awareness and preventive strategies which support lifelong opportunities under SDGs 4 [access to quality education] and 10 [reducing inequalities]. By boosting awareness and access to healthcare, the profession impacts gender equality and economic prospects – SDGs 5 and 8 – leading to the stability and resilience of societies sought under SDGs 9, 11 and 16.
Highlighting strategies to strengthen the nursing and midwifery profession in Pakistan, Dr Arwa Oweis, from the World Health Organization, mentioned challenges in scaling up the health workforce and the importance of strengthening nursing and midwifery regulation, education and practice. This can be achieved by creating operational plans for existing strategies.
In line with the conference’s theme Transforming Healthcare Systems, organised on the 35th anniversary of the founding of AKU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery (SONAM), Pakistan’s first-ever university to offer an academic degree – rather than a diploma – in nursing, speakers also highlighted how nursing in Pakistan has been transformed over the last three decades and how the impact of developments in Pakistan extended across borders.
Commenting on how advanced education in nursing is enabling nurses to have a global impact, Professor Karmaliani pointed out that Pakistan’s first PhD nurse Yasmin Amarsi played a key role in introducing the first bachelor’s and master’s nursing curriculum in Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda that have produced over 6,000 degree and diploma holders.
Professor Karmaliani added that the current Dean of AKU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery in East Africa, Sharon Brownie, is advising the East Africa Community an intergovernmental body on harmonising nursing programmes across five nation states. Such programmes will introduce global benchmarks and standards into East African education and pave the way for nurses to work flexibly between countries. This will ultimately raise East Africa’s health indicators and help the region meet its promises under the Sustainable Development Goals, she added.
Dr David Arthur, Dean of SONAM in Pakistan, also emphasised the importance of developments in the midwifery profession. He said: “Educated midwives play a crucial role in improving the safety of deliveries. Midwives with degrees are more attuned to changes in a pregnant woman’s health, more experienced in dealing with the challenges of working in low-resource settings and more confident in making decisions on how to deal with complications. This is especially valuable in Pakistan which has inadequate rural healthcare facilities and poor ambulance services in remote areas.”
He also highlighted that AKU is working in collaboration with universities in several countries in Africa, Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia to add expertise from around the world into SONAM’s nursing curriculum. Globally, nursing education is responding to contemporary public health challenges from non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular illnesses and AKU is doing the same by introducing a master’s level nursing course focused on cardiology in 2017, Dr Arthur added.
AKU graduate Dr Rafat Jan, who is the first nurse-midwife to head the Pakistan Nursing Council (which determines curriculum requirements across Pakistan) and also leads the Midwifery Association of Pakistan, spoke about the Vision and Strategic Directions: Future of Pakistan’s Nurses and Midwives in her address.
Dr Jan said: “Adapting international guidelines into competency-based curriculums and introducing specialty education nurses enables nurses to be better skilled and more directly involved in acute and critical care. This is a benefit for patients and families who rely on nurses and daily caregivers to guide them through all stages of the challenging recovery process.”
The conference also covered a range of workshops, bringing together more than 500 nursing clinicians, researchers, educators, and leaders from across Pakistan. Sessions during the workshops highlighted the importance of e-learning, nurses’ role in rapid response situations to save lives as well as research developments in the spheres of healthcare policy, public health and hospital management.
Other speakers at the conference included chief guest Mahtab Akbar Rashidi, Member, Sindh Assembly; Firoz Rasul, President, Aga Khan University; and Hans Kedzierski, CEO, Aga Khan University Hospital.