Dar es Salaam. Ms Muneerah Aminvasta, a Pakistani national who has worked in Tanzania, is perhaps one of the new generations of nurses who are living the famous old adage of “killing two birds with a single stone,” as she pursues bigger dreams in her career.
Over the years, Muneerah has learnt that the nursing profession can be used as “a tool” to fight the biggest enemies of mankind—poverty and ignorance. This is, despite nursing being a health-oriented vocation.
Ms. Muneerah is essentially trained as a nurse, but when this reporter meets her for an interview, she appears very eager to point out loudly, “I am a community health nurse and a teacher of nurses.’’ And, she says it so emphatically that this reporter is tempted ask further.
Muneerah has decided to view nursing beyond the scope of a hospital setting and it does not take long before this reporter learns why she was so keen to add the phrase “community health” to her nurse tag.
At the age of 45, nothing seems to stand in her way as she strives to prove to the world that “A nurse doesn’t have to abandon the profession in order to excel in life or be able to help society tackle poverty and ignorance.’’
“I have worked in communities during outreach programmes in most parts of Tanzania and through that, I have learnt how nurses can help many people, especially the poor, to avoid contracting diseases,’’ she says.
The mother of three boys adds, “A nurse has a big role to play in helping children during their early stages of development. This can have a big positive impact in the future of the child.”
“Nurses are an honorable group of the society but they have been taken for granted for many years. The image of a nurse has been that of a woman who works on the orders of a doctor in a hospital. Well, a nurse is more than that,’’ she further explains.
After 16 years of working with the Aga Khan University (AKU) in Pakistan and East Africa, Muneerah is now set for the highest level of academic excellence at a prestigious University of Alberta in Canada.
She happens to be among the fewest women in her country to be pursuing a PHD, moreover, in the nursing profession. “A woman in Pakistan faces many challenges in terms of access to education. But things have been changing over time,’’ she says.
“For me, I should thank the AKU for nurturing me into the educated person I am today. When I joined AKU more than a decade ago, it’s when I learnt that there was room for me to excel in further education,’’ says Muneerah.
Her zeal to pursue further education was sparked by her teacher Rozina Karamalliani who is Professor at the AKU in Karachi, from whom she says, “I drew inspiration. She is my role model.’’
However, for most nurses in Tanzania and East Africa in general, a chance for further studies usually comes as a rare opportunity. Muneerah says, “Several nurses have retired with a diploma. Few have gone up to degree level and very few have attained a Master’s degree.’’
The human resource gap in the health sector in Tanzania does not augur well for the future of healthcare delivery—and in the nursing profession, the gap is widening further.
Last month, the Aga Khan Hospital Director of Nursing, Ms Lucy Hwai urged the government of Tanzania to train and employ more nurses so as to meet the standard nuse:patient ratio.
While the internationally accepted standard was 1:6, in Tanzania it was still pegged at 1:50-60. Speaking during commemoration of the World Nurses Day, Ms Hwai noted that increasing the number of nurses in the health sector would be a major boost in the health system.
Muneerah’s story in Africa is that of a few privileged nurses who may have benefited from the heavy investment that AKU has initiated in training nurses and midwives.
Early this year, The Aga Khan University opened a new state-of-the art facility in Dar es Salaam to groom nurses and midwives at degree level as part of the varsity’s major plans to bridge the human resource gaps the health sector.
Within the past two years, more than 2100 nurses in East Africa have graduated from the AKU. In Tanzania, one of the notable alumni is, Dr Khadija Malima—the Director of the Division of Nursing and Midwifery Services in the Health Ministry.
Muneerah has been teaching nurses in this school. She says she could have decided to hold on to her job at the AKU, where her career began and flourished but, as she points out, “Further studies will help me to become a better nurse and a better teacher of the nurses.’’
After her stint in Canada, where she will be pursuing a PHD in “The Roles and Responsibilities of nurses to support in early Childhood Development,’’ Muneerah has pledged to come back to Africa and dedicate her career to the continent.
She says “My coming to Africa, about 8 years ago, was a turning point in my life and career. I owe much to Africa.The years I have served on this continent have taught me lessons. I have learnt how to apply skills to help communities in less-resourceful settings.’’
“My plan is to return to Africa—preferably East Africa—with more capacity and vigor to prevent diseases and fight poverty,’’ she adds.
“When I come back, I would love to dedicate my efforts to advocating early childhood development. This is one area that governments need to put more money if they are to deal with poverty. When you have a healthy child, you have a healthy community,’’ she says.