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Commentary & Opinion
International Nurses Day Chance to Improve Conditions for Health Workers in Developing Countries, Opinion Piece Says

May 13, 2009

International Nurses Day, which took place on Tuesday, was "an appropriate day ... to consider the challenges faced by health care personnel in developing countries," including those related to HIV/AIDS, Gary Cohen, board director of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and the CDC Foundation, writes in a opinion piece.

He continues that "developing countries are beset by infectious diseases," including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and are "burdened by a fundamentally constrained capacity to provide health services." Health systems in these countries were "already fragile before diseases such as HIV/AIDS reached pandemic proportions," relying on "an impossibly small number of doctors and nurses, selflessly devoted to their roles as caregivers," Cohen writes. He adds that "health professionals in developing countries are clearly a scarce and precious resource" in the "global battle against" HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Health workers in developing countries also take job-related risks because of the prevalence of infectious diseases and limited protective equipment such as gowns and masks, he continues. "If clinicians contract infectious diseases, they face the same difficulties accessing health care as their patients" and are "often stigmatized" and sometimes considered "unfit to care for patients." According to Cohen, the International Council of Nurses, a global network of nursing professionals, "has taken the lead in addressing this problem by establishing wellness centers for health professionals" in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa that provide services such as HIV and TB testing and treatment in a "discreet environment that avoids creating stigma among clients."

Cohen continues, "Until health care capacity expands in these regions, the world cannot achieve the goal of universal treatment access for pandemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS." However, the global nursing community can receive support for wellness centers and other "practical measures." The public can urge its governments, funding organizations and private sector organizations to invest in strengthening the health systems in developing countries, Cohen writes, adding that health ministries in developing countries also should be encouraged to "improve working conditions for health workers." He concludes, "Nothing short of this will be sufficient to protect the valiant nurses battling infectious diseases in the developing world" (Cohen,, 5/11).

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