Protecting Nurses, Saving Lives

This blog was written by Judith Oulton, Chair of the Africa Action Network for Nurses and Midwives

In response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the Africa Action Network for Nurses and Midwives (AAN) was created. What began in early March 2020 as an idea among four individuals, keen to address a shortfall of information and personal protective equipment (PPE) for nurses in Africa, quickly grew to 20 founding members in Africa, Europe, North-America, the Middle East, and Asia. 

It rapidly became evident that, if Africa was to have sufficient PPE, it needed to be locally made and it needed to be reusable. We consulted with global experts to establish evidence-based specifications for locally made reusable PPE, including masks, aprons, and gowns. Masks quickly became our number one priority. 

Practical information was also needed. Nurses, lacking knowledge, and PPE feared going to work and members of the public started to fear interacting with them because of the perceived risks of catching the virus. Stigma grew and, with it, the threat of violence. African nurse leaders and former leaders of nursing associations and councils stepped up to respond to this challenge.

Understanding that practical information and advice from experienced clinicians was urgently needed we initiated “China Africa Live”, an online weekly Q&A session with nurses and doctors who were the first responders to COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. The sessions continue and can be viewed on Youtube: China-Africa Consultations.

In May, AAN launched its first local PPE production project with the Kampala International University School of Nursing (KIU). To date, students and faculty members have produced 170,000 evidenced-based, reusable surgical-type face masks. These are donated to hospitals and facilities without PPE. KIU is now planning a research project to evaluate mask use and effectiveness. 

In July, another face mask production project was launched in Malawi, as a partnership between the Malawi Association of Retired Nurses and Midwives and the Malawi Nursing Council.  Since then, Rwandan nurses have begun to produce masks and proposals are in the pipeline from Lesotho and Tanzania. As a result of the growing stigma surrounding nurses caring for patients with COVID-19, we are now also concentrating on providing information for the public and psychological support for nurses.

The work of nurses locally is greatly appreciated. Being better equipped to provide safe, quality care bolsters nurses’ morale, enhances nurses’ image, and, by working with employers and suppliers, builds new leadership skills as well as new and stronger links to the community. Our hope is to help more nurses in Africa protect themselves and those they serve.

AAN is a global consortium of experienced health care professionals, founded in 2020, working to support nurses and nurse-midwives fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in 11 low-resource African countries.