The nurse has the privilege to open the eyes of a newborn, and to gently close the eyes of the dying –witness to both the beginning and the end of life.
The history of nursing is as old as the history of mankind. The first Islamic nurse, Hazrat Rufaida Al-Aslamia (620 AD), obtained her medical and clinical expertise from her father, Sa’ad Al-Aslamy, who was a physician at that time. Hazrat Rufaida used to treat and provide care to the soldiers during the Jihad (Holy War). She accompanied Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khaibar and others in order to treat the wounded.
Similarly, Florence Nightingale (Lady with the Lamp) who pioneered modern nursing served as the trainer of nurses during the Crimean War (1853-1856), orgainsing care for wounded soldiers. No doubt she had limited resources but in 1860 she laid the foundation of the first school of nursing at St Thomas Hospital in London.
In 1918, nurses played a major role in the Spanish flu pandemic that killed about 675,000 Americans and up to 50 million people worldwide. In the one year that the Spanish flu ravaged the globe, nurses worked tirelessly to care for sick and dying patients, at the same time exposing themselves and their families to the virus.
Most people received care at home since hospitals teemed with the ill. In cities, where immigrant ghettos were considered ‘hives of illness,’ nurses visited patients in their cramped tenement flats. In rural areas, they called on patients in remote farmhouses, log cabins and shacks.
Nurses around the world continue to perform stellar roles in the response to the coronavirus outbreak. In its 2019 annual report, the WHO had said that the world was not adequately prepared for a global health crisis. Since pandemic outbreaks are unpredictable, global health agencies have to develop plans that will provide appropriate and timely responses, the WHO said. Among those who must be involved in planning are nurses, the organisation said.
The health sector in J & K has itself been ailing on many counts. Shortage of nursing and paramedical staff is one of the main factors which hinder quality health care. As per a report published in Kashmir Monitor, according to the data of Government Medical College Srinagar, all its associated hospitals in the valley have only 800 nurses against a sanctioned strength of 3,000 to 4,000. Of the 800 nurses, only 500 are permanent and the rest work on contractual basis.
An official of Government Medical College Srinagar said that the nursing staff posts were created in the early ’80s when these hospitals were established. “The creation of posts is directly proportional to the bed strength. However, with the increasing bed strength in the hospitals, the staff has remained the same and the recruitment has been done purely on contract basis,” the official said.
The official noted that as per the Indian Nursing Council (INC), the nurse-patient ratio should be 1:4 in the casualty wards, 1:3 for general wards, and 1:5 for district hospitals. However, the situation on ground is completely different. In a 50-bed ward of SMHS Hospital, there are only two nurses available to attend to patients during night hours. Same is the case with the lone maternity hospital (LD), the Institute of Neuro Sciences Rainawari, and the GB Pant Paediatric Hospital, where much more staff is added. Shortage of nursing staff increases the workload and results in decreased quality care.
The need of the hour is to equip nursing professionals with adequate PPE (personal protective equipment), in-service training regarding crisis management, and all necessary allowances such as risk allowances. After doctors, the most important humanitarian profession is of the nurses who remain directly in touch with the patients round the clock.
Nurses have lost their lives while caring for the positive cases of corona virus in Indonesia, Iran, Spain and Pakistan. The latest figures from Italy show that 9% of the country’s Covid-19 cases are healthcare workers. Howard Catton, the Chief Executive of ICN, has confirmed the death of nurses and called for urgent action to ensure adequate supplies of PPE.
The writer is a research scholar from Nambla, Uri. [email protected]