THE observations made by Besa Chimbaka, the Minister for Luapula Province, about the shortage of nurses in the country being a constraint and barrier to our people's access to quality health services should attract the attention of everyone in government and civil society.

It cannot be denied that there is a serious shortage of nurses in our country and this has serious consequences on the provision of health services in our country.

A shortage of nurses leads to long queues at clinics and hospitals, long waiting periods before patients can be attended to. This leads to the slowing down of procedures at clinics and hospitals and increase adverse events for patients and more stressful work environment.

As the shortage of nurses increases, there is increased pressure on our health system to start depending on unqualified and unregulated health workers to meet demands for basic nursing care within clinics and hospitals.

We agree with Chimbaka that nursing is a noble profession and that in every country, nurses were a principal group of people promoting the respect for individual human rights among other issues.

One cannot claim to have respect for human rights or to uphold the sanctity of life if there is no provision for minimum health care for all. And there is no future development without healthy citizens. It is said that caring for the sick is a calling from God of a special dignity and importance, not just another job.

Truly, this is so because health care is really an imitation of Jesus, who saw healing the sick as central to his ministry of establishing the Kingdom of God. We may not be able to cure miraculously our sick sisters and brothers around us but we can share the charity of tender hands and also promote the justice of good health policies and adequate medicines.

But we disagree with Chimbaka when he says that the shortage of nurses in the country is the reason why the government is providing mobile hospitals. This is nonsense. It doesn't make sense. He is not telling the truth and he is talking about an issue whose origins he probably doesn't even understand.

This corrupt scheme of mobile hospitals can never address the shortage of nurses and was not in any way meant to deal with that problem, to be a remedy for it. It was simply a project that was meant to enrich some individuals. This is a subject of another editorial comment.

What is true, what is correct, in what Chimbaka said is that nurses play a very important role in the provision of health care to our people and also that some major gaps still exist in the delivery of health services to our people. In this regard, Chimbaka's observations are correct and true.

A nurse is a healthcare professional who, in collaboration with other members of a healthcare team, is responsible for: treatment, safety and recovery of acutely or chronically ill individuals; health promotion and maintenance within families, communities and populations; and, treatment of life threatening emergencies in a wide-range healthcare setting.

We say this because nurses perform a wide range of clinical and non-clinical functions necessary to the delivery of healthcare. For this reason, if there is a shortage of nurses, a gap, as Chimbaka correctly observed, is created in the delivery of health services.

And where there is a gap as a result of a shortage of nurses, stress sets in among those few nurses and indeed among their patients and their families. This leads to poor relations between the nurses and the patients and indeed their families. We cannot expect an overstretched and stressed nurses to offer good care to their patients.

This leads to anger and frustration in patients and their families. As a result of this, we see nurses being abused, insulted and harassed in all sorts of ways.

Mobile clinics will not address the shortage of nurses because that fleet will move with only a limited number of nurses who have difficulties taking shifts. And they may suffer worse stress than the nurses at fixed hospitals and clinics.

The money being used on these mobile clinics or hospitals would have been better utilised by channelling it to the training of more nurses and improving their conditions of work instead of buying diesel and oil for the trucks.

Moreover, the nurses and other medical staff on these trucks will need to be paid allowances for being away from home. Clearly, this is a senseless undertaking that cannot be justified in any way. And whoever tries to justify it simply ends up making a fool of themselves.

Chimbaka had a very good speech for May 12, the International Nurses Day celebrated around the world since it was instituted in homage to Florence Nightingale, a world nursing symbol born on that day in 1820 in Britain.

Chimbaka said a lot of very good and valuable things, but messed his speech up by trying to sell a corrupt project he has been forced to promote by the appointing authorities who initiated it.

International Nurses Day is a noble day, and Chimbaka should have kept that corrupt scheme of theirs called mobile clinics or hospitals out of it.

That scheme of theirs doesn't resonate with the deeds and spirit of Nightingale, that outstanding medical official, that British nurse of Italian descent who completely transformed the traditional practice of nursing by introducing qualitative changes in terms of providing healthcare to soldiers, improving sanitation and hygiene and implementing measures that met the needs of patients and helped them provide better quality of life during periods of convalescence.

Recipients and providers of nursing services are viewed as individuals and groups who possess basic rights and responsibilities, and whose values and circumstances should command respect at all times. Nursing encompasses the promotion and restoration of health, the prevention of illness, and the alleviation of suffering.

Clearly, the need for nursing is universal and inherent in nursing is respect for life, dignity and the rights of fellow human beings. Therefore, nurses have to be compassionate people.

For this reason, we urge our nurses to be extremely tolerant and respectful of their patients. We urge them to at all times maintain standards of personal conduct which reflect credit upon their profession.

But let's not forget that nurses share with all of us the responsibility for initiating and supporting action to meet the health and social needs of the public. This means that when they are mistreated, we should also feel on ourselves their mistreatment; when they protest or demand improved conditions of service, we should be on their side and support their cause.

This is the only way the nurse can reestablish the public's confidence and get its support and cooperation in the struggle for a better nursing service both in quality of work and conditions of service. The nurses need to get the public on their side. And the public needs to support the nurses so that they can in turn give them a better service.