At least 2,000 nurses and midwives in Malawi, some having graduated as far as two years ago, remain unemployed yet public health facilities in the country are facing acute shortage of health workers.
This was disclosed last Saturday during an advocacy meeting involving various stakeholders including National Organization of Nurses and Midwives (NONM), representatives of unemployed nurses and midwives and Ministry of Health and Population.
The meeting was aimed at soliciting views to garner a unanimous and concesus call to Malawi Government and its development partners to consider employing the 2,000 nurses.
Government stopped mass recruitment of staff into the civil service in 2015 due to lack of funds, a development which has left many nurses and midwives jobless.
This means the few health personnel in public health facilities are being overworked to a point where they have fatigue which leads to poor performance and results.
The nurse to patient ratio in Malawi is currently at 0.5 to 1 000 while the World Health Organization recommends a ratio of at least 1 to 175.
Dalitso Dulani, a representative of the unemployed nurses and midwives, said this acute shortage of health personnel is making some public health facilities to hire unemployed nurses and midwives on what he described as "locum and student allowance" basis to reduce the workload.
According to Dulani, this is a health facility's own arrangement where it pays out K3 000 per day to a health worker on day shift and K3 500 to the one on night duty.
The student nurse or midwife is, apparently, paid only K20 000 a month.
"The money is too meagre when you consider the current cost of living. In their desperation for jobs and more money, some of these health workers have been sexually exploited," complained Dulani.
It was also learnt during the meeting that some of these unemployed nurses and midwives have resorted to working in private pharmacies and drugstores where they have been reduced to mere medicine sellers.
"This is very sad. Nursing is a profession premised on practice to enhance one's skills on the job. If one does not practise even just for a year, that passion is affected," observed NONM Executive Director Benson Edwinson Phiri.
Phiri called upon government and development partners to treat the recruitment of the 2,000 nurses and midwives as a priority.
Malawi has, among other colleges, Kamuzu College of Nursing, Malawi College of Health Sciences and Christian Heath Association of Malawi colleges that graduate a substantial amount of nurses and midwives every year, most of them being Nursing and Midwifery Technicians (NMTs).
In 2017 alone, there were 2,317 newly registered nurses and midwives.
College Principal for St John's College of Nursing and Midwifery Shouts Simeza noted that these institutions train these competent health workers based on the demand by government.
He said government should, therefore, always be prepared to employ them.
However, the Department of Human Resources in the Ministry of Health and Population was given K800 million only out of the K2.9 billion it asked to recruit some of the 2,000 nurses and midwives.