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Exposing their hands and faces

February 24, 2008 -- Today The Jerusalem Post ran a brief item reporting that the Egyptian government plans to bar nurses from wearing veils on duty, a plan that has drawn opposition from Muslim religious groups. The piece notes that an Egyptian Health Ministry study found that "the vast majority" of patients preferred that nurses not wear the veils. The Ministry reportedly believes the veils interfere with nurse-patient communication. The piece does not mention the potential for infection as nurses with large veils provide care to multiple patients. The item is based on a report in the London-based Asharq Alawsa. We commend the Post for this look at the possible tensions among religious tradition, political interests, and nursing practice.

The Ministry estimates that about one tenth of the 90,000 nurses working in state-owned hospitals in Egypt wear "the face veil." But the article also notes that the possible ban on the wearing of the niqab would mean that the nurses would be "exposing their hands and faces." In any case, such garments would appear to present a significant risk of infection as nurses performed their many duties, moving from patient to patient (just as neckties, long sleeves, nurses' caps and white coats may). The piece reports that the Ministry finds the veil to be "an obstacle to communication between nurses and patients." As we have mentioned in regard to a previous article, some may view nursing as a series of menial supportive tasks, but the work actually requires effective communication. Nurses must be able to speak with patients about their conditions, including teaching them about their illnesses and related health procedures. When nurses cannot communicate well with patients, or when infection control is poor, lives are jeopardized.

The article notes that "religious authorities" in Egypt have said that such a ban would "violate basic freedoms," and that some members of the nation's Parliament are planning to try to prevent the ban from coming into effect. They are apparently concerned that the ban will establish a precedent for bans in other settings. The piece provides further context about the extent to which the disagreement reflects larger tensions between the ruling National Democratic Party and the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, which is "banned, yet tolerated to some extent," and has a number of supporters in Parliament.

We thank the Jerusalem Post for this report.

See the article "Veil bill challenges Egyptian nurses" from the February 24, 2008 edition of The Jerusalem Post.



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