The International Council of Nurses estimates that sub-Saharan Africa has a shortage of 600 000 nurses. Globally, the world needs at least 350 000 midwives, a third of them in the world’s poorest nations, according to the United Nations.

Yet, in many African countries, a nurse will be the first and sometimes only healthcare professional that a patient will find at a healthcare centre. This is one of the reasons why Anne Thumbi, a nominated Member of the Nairobi County Assembly, opted to go back to being a nurse when the assembly took a break following the outbreak of the coronavirus in Kenya.

She hang her political boots and picked up her nursing cap.

For the last two months, Anne Thumbi a nominated Member of Nairobi’s County Assembly (similar to a councillor in South Africa) has not passed any city bylaws. Instead, she has been offering her services at the Waithaka Health Center in Nairobi as a nurse.

“When we were told that we have COVID-19 in Kenya, I decided to join my colleagues and offer my skills because I am trained and I have been practicing for now, and decided why not drop my honorable title and volunteer my services at Waithaka Health Center.”

The health centre is not like any other. It is next to the Kawangware informal settlement, one of the epicenters of COVID-19 in Nairobi. That has, however, not deterred her resolve to continue serving.

“We are receiving so many patients. Because of panic, people are coming to the hospital. As a nurse, you take an oath and tell God that you want to give your services. Once a nurse always a nurse,” she says.

The Nairobi County Assembly is on a break, as Kenya has banned public gatherings to contain the spread of coronavirus and so, every morning, she reports to work at 8AM and does not break until well after 4PM.

Thumbi begins her day by giving a talk on COVID-19 and simple ways that one can prevent contracting the virus, then gets down to the duties of the day. As we mark the international day of midwives and nurses, Thumbi says the world cannot afford to ignore nurses and their role in the global healthcare.

“In Kenya, we say nurses are next to angels. After God, there are angels and then nurses, because these are people who do a lot of work. Happy nurses week.”

Meanwhile, the African Union has asked the continent’s policymakers to invest  in the training of nurses and midwives with the aim of improving health, promoting gender equality and supporting economic growth. The infographic below gives more information about different types of nurses: