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Who vaccinated you? Who provides the bulk of the care if you are hospitalised? Nurses are the lynchpin of our healthcare system but they just don’t get their due. To illustrate, the Lok Sabha this year saw 31 questions about doctors, including about violence against them, their mental wellbeing, shortages and deaths. Nurses suffer similar issues but they merited a grand total of one question. We learn from the answer that India has 1.79 nurses per 1,000 population, 46% less than the WHO norm. Topped with 21 months of non-stop pandemic work, this is a recipe for exhaustion.
Burnout has caused serious nurse shortages in many parts of the world. In the US Kentucky’s governor has actually declared a nurse staffing emergency, with an action plan to increase the state’s nursing students rapidly. Rich countries also have the option of importing nurses, with India being a top global exporter. Unattractive working conditions at home mean our nurses migrate eagerly. That most of them are women is not incidental to why they are underpaid and undervalued.
Beds and doctors cannot treat patients by themselves. It follows that India must reform outdated systems of professional governance as also the Indian Nursing Council Act of 1947 and increase investments in nursing education. But young people will be incentivised to train for the profession only if they see it being treated respectfully and remunerated fairly.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.