This line of work has a workforce of 123,804 in the country
Despite catering to patients by risking their lives since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, nurses have not got the attention they needed from the authorities concerned about their “self-threatening” job, said some belonging to this community of health professionals.
They braved the pandemic that surfaced in the country in March last year, to work along with other health professionals, including doctors, as “frontline fighters”.
It was they who received the incoming Covid-19 patients at the hospitals, monitored their health conditions, coordinated with doctors to provide them with medication.
In return, they struggled to get proper and adequate protection gear while performing duties at the beginning of the pandemic.
“The entire nation went into lockdown, yet the nurses and other health professionals worked round the clock. No other frontline fighters were like us as we were exposed directly to Covid-19 patients,” said Shuriya Begum, registrar of the Bangladesh Nursing and Midwifery Council (BNMC).
When the pandemic started crippling the country, health workers did not step back from their responsibility amid limited preparations.
“We visited hospitals and talked to our nurses despite an acute shortage of PPEs,” Shuraiya recalled.
In the first few months when quarantine was mandated for all health workers, nurses were not entitled to that, owing to lack of preparations by the health authorities.
“Basically, arrangements were not made in an organized way at the time,” she said, adding that doctors always enjoyed priority—from having PPEs to being institutionally quarantined.
Meanwhile, the government felt it extremely necessary to hire more nurses, thus adding another workforce of 5,000 from the waiting list of senior staff nurse recruitment examinations held in 2018.
More people keen to be nurses
Defying the odds, the number of nurses has been rising in the country.
Bangladesh had a total of 106,941 registered nurses, midwives and allied professionals working in different positions, including nursing superintendents, deputy nursing superintendents, nursing supervisors, senior staff nurses, and staff nurses till November 30, 2019, according to the BNMC.
The figure surged to 123,804 as of January 31 this year. Of them, 71,369 have completed either diplomas or B.Sc in nursing and midwifery. The B.Sc in nursing is a four-year course under Dhaka University and affiliated with the BNMC.
Nobody, as per government rules, can join the nursing service before registering with the BNMC, and that too, only after obtaining degrees in nursing and midwifery.
Md Kamal Hossain Patwary, president of Bangladesh Nurses Association’s Dhaka Medical College unit, said the hospital has nearly 2,600 nurses.
“More people are coming to the profession—a good sign for the country. I believe there will be no shortage of professional nurses in the near future,” he said.
The country is capable of producing 36,600 nurses, midwives and aligned professionals annually.
‘Fair pay’ still a far cry?
Nurses employed by the government enjoy a proper salary structure like other public servants. But those working in private hospitals and clinics sometimes find it tough to make ends meet as they do not have a salary structure.
“For instance, nurses and midwives in private hospitals in Dhaka have higher salaries than those in government hospitals. But outside the capital, at district level private hospitals and clinics, they are poorly paid,” said Patwary.
Outside Dhaka, the professionals start their career at as low as Tk 10,000-12,000.
Despite these constraints, nearly 7,000 new professionals join the nursing workforce every year, after obtaining their registrations from the BNMC.
Of institutions and courses offered
According to the latest estimates of the BNMC, as many as 177 government institutes and colleges teach eight types of courses to some 8,215 students annually. These include Diploma in Nursing Science and Midwifery, Diploma in Midwifery, B.Sc in Nursing, Post B.Sc in Nursing/ Public Health Nursing, Masters of Science in Nursing, Diploma in Pediatric Nursing, Family Welfare Visitors and Community Skilled Birth Attendants (CSBA).
There are 611 private institutions and colleges for 28,385 students.
Four courses are not taught in the government institutions—Diploma in Cardiac Nursing, Diploma in Renal Nursing, Junior Midwifery and Community Paramedic.
Currently, nearly 18,00 students are studying these courses at private institutions.