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"Scarce nurses called key to AIDS fight"

August 13, 2006 -- Today the The London Free Press (Canada) ran a piece by Sheryl Ubelacker about comments at Toronto's International AIDS Conference on nurses in AIDS care. The short, helpful article was based on speeches at the International Nurses Forum by Tony Clement, the Canadian Health Minister, and Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy for AIDS in Africa. They stressed that nurses are essential to effective AIDS treatment around the world. But nursing shortages are threatening that treatment, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. There, the disease has disabled other health providers, and nurses must assume even more duties. One ironic note: Clement said that the world needed nurses' "dialogue and debate" on AIDS, and the piece stated that nurses' "voices too often go unheard." Yet the piece itself did not include a word from any nurse.

The piece reports that Clement told the 250 assembled nurses that they played a pivotal role in "creating safe environments" for people with HIV to get care, treatment, and support. He said that "[a]s the world's largest group of health-care providers, nurses are really an essential human resource in all of our health-care systems." But he noted that shortages meant that nurse training programs had to be expanded, especially where the disease had "decimated populations and the health sector."

Lewis echoed that point, noting that (as the piece put it) "[w]ith the disease killing and disabling other health providers, such as doctors and pharmacists, those nurses left often must do triple-duty: testing and diagnosing, dispensing drugs, and counselling and caring for patients." Of course, AIDS also kills and disables nurses, who have more direct patient contact than any other type of health professional. Lewis called the lack of staff "the ultimate irony" when fixed-dose generic drugs were available, but there was no one to roll out the treatment. He noted that the lack of nurses is perhaps worst in AIDS-stricken sub-Saharan Africa, where they have also been lost to "poaching" by developed nations. He stressed that nurses are "the linchpin in the response to the every single country on the world."

These are some great quotes, and those from Lewis even include a few specifics about what nurses actually do in fighting AIDS, or would do if they had the resources. But we have to wonder about whether the Nurses Forum heard from any actual nurses. What did they have to say about what can be done to increase their numbers, improve working conditions, and strengthen AIDS care around the world? It's hard not to see this as a small example of the undervaluation of the profession that contributes to the very problems Clement and Lewis highlight.

Nevertheless, we thank Ms. Ubelacker and the The London Free Press for this piece.

See the article "Scarce nurses called key to AIDS fight" by Sheryl Ubelacker from the August 13, 2006 edition of The London Free Press.

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