NT: How badly is the shortage of nurses affecting the fight against HIV/Aids?
DC: A large number of nurses are leaving Southern Africa to work in the developing world. They are driven by the need for better remuneration and conditions. If they move abroad they can send money home, and buy property - something that would be very difficult to do on a standard nurse’s wage. They can also benefit from training.
The shortage of nurses makes it difficult to fight HIV/Aids, indeed to provide an efficient healthcare service at all. The majority of nurses at any one time are newly qualified. We are really lacking middle level nurses to mentor these new recruits as it is this level of nurse who move abroad to work.
As more nurses leave we also find that the workload increases for those that remain. When this is added to the deteriorating conditions of the hospitals and the lack of adequate drugs there are real impacts on healthcare delivery. It also leads to a high turnover of staff.
Our nurses need ongoing training to develop their skills. They also really need basic equipment like retractable needles to prevent needlestick injuries. With such a high prevalence of HIV/Aids this is imperative.
The amount of people suffering from Aids also makes the working life of nurses difficult. They might have to care for members of their family who have HIV/Aids, indeed they might have HIV/Aids themselves. Employers need to offer counselling and support.
As unions we perhaps also need to negotiate flexi time for nurses in this position too. Nurses need test to diagnose HIV and drugs to treat it. Proper nutrition for nurses is also a problem which deserves some support. We really need our nurses to fight HIV/Aids.
NT: Do developed countries like the UK do enough to protect healthcare workforces in Africa and other developing nations?
DC: This UNISON project is doing great work, it lets us share knowledge and create better working procedures. There is more that could be done.
The developed world could give protective clothing and equipment. It could also offer packages that would encourage nurses to return to their native countries after a given time, say in five or ten years.
Zimbabwe needs to achieve its millennium development goals, which include getting to grips with the Aids pandemic, but to do that we need our nurses. HIV/Aids impacts greatly on social development, it is hard to be productive if you are struggling with an epidemic which mostly affects people of working age.
NT: What do you think of the NHS from what you have seen here?
DC: I have visited a hospital during this trip, and can see that the NHS offers a good service. What it really needs is to train more nurses. It needs to offer them good packages so that more people are encouraged into nursing.
Interview by Richard Staines