African nurses are on the front lines in the fight against Ebola [Letter]

Kudos to letter writer Patricia M. Davidson of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing for raising awareness about the role of nursing in the Ebola outbreak ("This is not crazy; this is nursing," Aug. 18).

Nurses, particularly African nurses, are on the frontline against Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, the countries most impacted by the recent outbreak. They are looking fear in the face as they try to do what they do best—care for individuals, families and communities.

Nurses in these countries have resilience and great strength due to their history of working in sub-optimal environments with inadequate staffing, lack of resources and limited public understanding or appreciation for the great work that they do.

We have witnessed one nurse caring for 150 patients a day in environments that lack the basic equipment needed to help a struggling baby breathe and which consistently devalue nurses' work and image. Despite that, many Africans still choose career in nursing and have the honor of caring for the patients they love within communities with the highest burden of disease in the world.

The attributes of a caring spirit, creativity, compassion, unwavering commitment and competency sustain African nurses as they continue to lead and work in the midst of the Ebola outbreak even if it means risking their own lives.

African nurses the backbone of the health systems in these countries, bravely working within health systems that are nearly overwhelmed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and poor outcomes for pregnant mothers, newborns and children. Ebola has caused a system that was extremely short of health care professionals to lose many of the precious few left.

These lost professionals were our colleagues; many of us know them by name. Those nurses who remain behind keep their memories in our heart and want to be part of a team that is determined to win the fight against Ebola and other diseases, but we need support from the global community.

Opportunities to help abound at this critical junction in the Ebola crisis. We need disinfecting agents and are protective garments to safeguard patients and health care professionals. Nurses do not have gloves, gowns, rubber boots, and bleach, without which many health care professionals on the ground are afraid to come to work. If the one nurse who cares for 150 patients does not come to work, there may be no once else at her hospital to treat a patient with Ebola, help the mother who shows up to deliver a baby, treat the father who has malaria, assist the baby struggling to breath or provide support and treatment for the patient living with HIV/AIDS.

In short, failure to protect nurses in these hospitals, will not only escalate the deaths from Ebola but also lead to increased deaths from other illnesses. 

Feel the urge to help? One option for engagement is here.Yolanda Ogbolu, Lori Edwards and Marik Moen

The writers are on the nursing faculty at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

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