The first cases of HIV were reported in 1981. Since then, nurses around the world have been at the forefront of the fight against the epidemic. They acted to provide competent care for those infected and affected by the virus.
The World Health Organization has 2020 as the year of the nurse and the midwife. As this challenging year draws to a close, it is essential to reflect on the resilience and impact of nurses in the fight against the HIV epidemic.
An inspiring documentary 5B testifies to the compassionate, dedicated responses of a nurse-led community in the early days of the HIV epidemic. In the film, nurses and other healthcare providers reflect on their experience and how their care has changed.
The film shows how nurses take extraordinary actions to comfort, protect and care for people living with HIV in the United States. But the resilience of nurses in the fight against HIV is the same all over the world. Nurses in low- and low-income countries continue to dedicate their lives to caring for those living with the virus.
Nurses represents 50% of the global healthcare workers. And they are often the only providers of healthcare in many low- and middle-income countries. It plays an important role in efforts to end HIV by helping people with testing, treatment and prevention. This is why nurses around the world have come to the forefront of the global efforts to 90-90-90: Treatment for all goals. These are the common goals of the United Nations on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
As life-saving medications and preventative interventions were discovered, nurses still held the champions in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The role of the nurse has expanded over the years to competent bedside care with clinical and behavioral research, education and training leadership, program management, policy making, advocacy and activism of patients.
Nurses are initiate and manage antiretroviral therapy (ART) in places where there are no or limited physicians. Important tasks include preparing patients for ART; determination of medical fitness; the recommendation of the first and second line ART regimens; clinical monitoring; and the management of side effects.
Nurses also have organizations such as the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (based in the USA, with a chapter in Nigeria) and the National Association of HIV Nurses in the UK.
These organizations help provide education, professional development, networking, research, and leadership support to nurses and related health professionals who work with people living with HIV. They also promote awareness of HIV – related issues through public policy and advocacy.
Since the announcement of the 90-90-90 targets by UNAIDS, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care has highlighted many ways nurses can lead. The association has developed several policies, including:
- Ensure patients’ rights to fair and accessible healthcare
- Providing care and vulnerable populations
- Care across the spectrum of HIV services
- The provision of evidence-based and person-centered care
- Commitment to inter-professional collaboration
Despite the serious impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the most vulnerable communities worldwide and threat for the advancement of HIV care, nurses remain at the forefront of service. They have shown incredible courage, selflessness and stoicism in this unprecedented year. They apply the lessons learned during the early days of the HIV and AIDS epidemic in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is important to recognize all nurses and midwives who got lost in the fight against HIV and AIDS and now COVID-19.
Nurses’ values and commitment alone are not enough to be successful in ending HIV and AIDS by 2030. Nurses are often referred to a diminished role in practice and are dismissed. That’s why the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care has a statement call to action to demand support for HIV nursing worldwide, to:
- Nursing care guided by policies and legislation that support nurses’ true role in the prevention, care and treatment of HIV
- Expand resources, budget allocation and staff structures that reflect the central role of nursing to HIV care and achieving global targets
- Promote the equitable representation of nurses in healthcare and HIV decision-making bodies
- Develop health systems that ensure strong inter-professional collaboration
Jerry John NutorAssistant Professor, Family Health Care Nursing, University of California, San Francisco