The vital role of nurses in TB care and treatment – International Nurses Day 2017

The vital role of nurses in TB care and treatment – International Nurses Day 2017

Each year on 12 May, International Nurses Day celebrates the diverse contributions nurses make to society. Nowhere is this more evident than in the vital role played by nurses in the care and treatment of tuberculosis (TB) patients around the world.

“Scientists and researchers are critical to ending TB, but nurses, working on the front line of TB care and treatment, are equally so”, says Linette McElroy, Programme Secretary of The Union’s Nurses and Allied Professionals Sub-Section (NAPS).

Linette, a registered nurse turned TB educator, has been involved in TB prevention, care and control for more than 20 years. Emphasising the central role of nurses in the treatment of TB, she says, “TB is a disease of inequality and particularly affects marginalised populations. TB nurses are motivated by social justice. The health problems we see reflect injustice and inequality, and we can be agents of change.”

Through NAPS, nurses and allied professionals from all areas of The Union work together to define and strengthen their contributions to TB and lung health, and to coordinate best practices, support learning and facilitate professional development for nurses. Echoing her colleague, Carrie Tudor, NAPS Sub-Section Chair and TB Project Director for the International Council of Nurses, says, “As nurses, we don’t just treat the disease, we treat the patient. We support all of their needs, across every part of their lives and environment.”

According to Tudor, TB treatment is not generally part of nurse training yet in low-resource settings there are fewer doctors, meaning that TB care is often carried out by nurses. This means high quality nursing care is vital to the successful treatment of TB and training is central to that. Tudor trains nurses around the world on TB and infection control for the International Council of Nurses, through funding from the Lilly Foundation. A key part of this training is The Union best practice TB guide, which provides practical guidance to health workers on the front line of TB control. Tudor says of the guide, “It’s an invaluable resource. The nurses love its structure and clarity – they don’t want to put it down.”

A nurse who has benefited from training is Margaret Nduta (pictured), a nursing officer in the TB unit at Hoima Regional Referral Hospital, Uganda. She says, “The training made me realise that we had to do something about the burden of TB here in Uganda. I felt transformed. I thought TB care was for doctors, but the training showed me that it was we nurses that can work wonders. I believe that as a nurse I can make life better for people with TB.”

Nursing TB patients can be deeply personal.  Nduta says, “I feel pain when I see the poor are dying in the community, when I know there is treatment and that TB is curable. Nursing is a calling. It is a calling for me to help these patients.”

Her TB training enabled Nduta to recognise the gaps that affected TB treatment success rates at Hoima hospital. The TB unit at the hospital implemented a range of measures, including education, follow-up phone calls to patients, moving treatment to local health centres, and integrating TB and HIV care. This resulted in the hospital’s treatment success rates rising from 22 percent in 2011 to 87 percent in 2015. This transformation of the service had a huge impact on staff.  Nduta says, “These results made me love my job even more. They motivated my team to work even harder to make sure all of our patients complete treatment.”

Highlighting the role of nurses, Nduta says, “Nurses spend the most time with patients, so when empowered with knowledge on treating TB it’s a benefit to all because this leads to good adherence, good outcomes, a healthy community for all, and through this we will reach our goal strategy – a TB-free world in 2030.”

Find out more about NAPS and other Union Scientific Sub-Sections here.