Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Tuesday commended nurses in the country for remaining steadfast in the fight against COVID-19.

While commemorating International Nurses Day in KwaZulu-Natal, the Health minister said the nursing profession needs to be prioritised by strengthening education and training in the field.

He also announced the “Caring for the Carers” programme which endeavours to protect healthcare workers’ mental and physical wellbeing both during and after COVID-19.

“As a department, we recognise the need to prioritise the nursing profession along with the wellbeing of the nurses and strengthening nursing education, training and practice is one of our strategic objectives. Regrettable, our war against COVID-19 has cost of lives of our health workers,” Mkhize said.

“While the nurses have always worked under intense psychological pressure, the current pandemic is making an extraordinary demand on them, both physically and mentally. Retaining and supporting the nursing work force requires a focus on protecting their physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.

“In this regard, we have prioritised the development and implementation of a comprehensive programme called ‘Caring for the Carers’. Through this programme, our frontline health workers will be provided with a safety net.”

Mkhize said the contribution made by nurses to the fight against COVID-19 is “immeasurable”.

“The global epidemic calls for a different approach to celebrating nurses: the real leaders of the world. I commend all the nurses in our country for your contributions to the health and wellbeing of our nation and your efforts in the combat of the pandemic,” he said.

“For most of our communities, the nurse is the first to be seen at the time of birth; the heartbeat of the health system throughout the lifespan, providing preventative, curative, rehabilitative care; and often the last to help close our eyes at the end of life.

“As the whole world is called to wage a war against COVID-19…our nurses have given their all at the various stages of our response. Your compassion and comfort to patients who cannot be with their loved ones at their bedside through the journey of COVID-19 is the best gift to the patient, a gift no amount of money can buy.”

Mkhize said no nurse should be allowed to care for a COVID-19 patient without personal protective equipment (PPE).

“While the pandemic has magnified the cracks and exposed the impact of unequal distribution of resources between the private and public sector, we are resolute that all health professionals are provided with appropriate PPE and the requisite tools of trade. I’d like to affirm our commitment that no nurse will be allowed to care for patients without appropriate PPE,” he said.