Providing excellent nursing care for Africa’s children

10 September 2021 | Story Nicole Forrest. Photo Gallo Images/Darren Stewart. Voice Neliswa Sosibo. Read time 6 min.
Outcomes for children are greatly improved when they receive care from a specialist paediatric healthcare team, which includes specialised children’s nurses.
Outcomes for children are greatly improved when they receive care from a specialist paediatric healthcare team, which includes specialised children’s nurses.
 

While the past 18 months have been incredibly challenging for healthcare professionals, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Harry Crossley Children’s Nursing Development Unit (CNDU), in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, has continually found ways to strengthen children’s nursing.

Earlier this year, the CNDU hosted the virtual #NursesCount – Building Children’s Nursing for Africa Conference 2021. Soon after, towards the end of August, the CNDU team launched the first Africa‑wide journal club for children’s nurses*.

In both cases, the team have been laser‑focused on identifying what counts in the excellent nursing care of our continent’s children and their families, homing in on this goal to provide the support necessary to help paediatric nurses across Africa achieve the best standard of care.

Natasha North, a senior research officer at the CNDU, said that initiatives such as the #NursesCount conference and the journal club are essential for providing the ongoing training and knowledge‑exchange opportunities that contribute to improved patient care. This is especially true in the context of paediatric healthcare in Africa.

 

“Outcomes for children are greatly improved when they receive care from a specialist paediatric healthcare team, which includes specialised children’s nurses.”

“Children aren’t just ‘little adults’; their physiological responses to illness and injury can be quite different to those of an adult, and their emotional and developmental needs are also very specific,” she explained.

“Outcomes for children are greatly improved when they receive care from a specialist paediatric healthcare team, which includes specialised children’s nurses.”

With Africa being home to the world’s youngest population – and almost one billion children – North added, it is imperative that we build the children’s nursing workforce in Africa, for Africa.

“Nurses form the majority of the health-professional workforce in Africa. In many settings, nurses will be the only health professionals that patients are seen and treated by. Yet specialist children’s nurses make up barely one per cent of the nursing workforce on our continent,” she said.

Aligning learning to the local context

Understanding the necessity of a well‑trained and well‑supported nursing workforce for providing top‑notch paediatric care, the CNDU places emphasis on research and learning aimed at describing and celebrating children’s nursing practices in Africa.

Events such as conferences and journal clubs – which give healthcare professionals a chance to come together to review and discuss published articles in a given field or area of work – are critical in this regard.

By bringing African nursing data into focus at this year’s #NursesCount conference, the CNDU gave recognition to its mission of aligning nurse learning with local context.

 

“Nurses gather and hold a huge amount of data, but often don’t realise the full value of it.”

“Data is the foundation for evidence‑based decision‑making. Nurses gather and hold a huge amount of data, but often don’t realise the full value of it. They can sometimes feel like the information they collect is useful only for other healthcare professionals, as they don’t always see the end product of their work,” explained North.

“The value of this data can be unlocked when nurses start to recognise the relevance of the knowledge they generate. The major challenge here is to help nurses develop the skills that enable them to define an answerable question about their practice, and set about finding and interpreting the data to answer that question. That is ultimately what will make healthcare safer and better.”

The CNDU’s efforts to highlight the importance of data capturing, analysis and proliferation are being bolstered by initiatives such as the journal club, North noted.

 

“Journal clubs give nurses the chance to come together, review and discuss published articles.”

“Journal clubs give nurses the chance to come together, review and discuss published articles in a given field or area of work. Studies show that journal clubs aid with building familiarity with research terms and processes, embed habits of scientific reading and professional updating, and support evidence-based practice. These findings echo the experience of the CNDU team.

“Our evaluation of a large‑scale journal club we developed with the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital found that involving different cadres of nursing staff – including nursing auxiliaries, enrolled nurses and specialist children’s nurses – opens up valuable new conversations about team practice, and ensures that nurses at the bedside are involved in evidence‑based healthcare.”

Learning opportunities abound

While the facilitation of these learning and training efforts by bodies such as the CNDU are always useful for describing and celebrating excellent African children’s nursing practices, they are especially important in the context of COVID‑19.

Although the pandemic has presented challenges, it has also brought about greater opportunities for learning, and for increasing the reach of conferences and intellectual exchanges on the continent.

“The pandemic has had a serious impact on paediatric services in South Africa and across the continent. Teams have been doing an incredible job to keep essential services running, but some paediatric services and wards have been scaled down, and paediatric nurses have been moved to other urgent duties in adult care,” said North.

“It’s also meant that many opportunities for training and professional development have been put on hold. But the pandemic has also forced the team at CNDU to accelerate our planned move to blended and online learning provision. It’s been really encouraging to find that we can bring genuinely meaningful and engaging learning opportunities to many more children’s nurses this way.”

*If you are a children’s nurse interested in setting up a journal club in your hospital or healthcare setting, please contact Andrea.Amos@uct.ac.za. Membership is free, thanks to the generosity of the Burdett Nursing Trust.


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