International Nurses Day: The Underpaid Heroes of Healthcare

By: Hamidi

Today, on May 12, we mark International Nurses Day, a global celebration to honor the invaluable contributions of nurses worldwide. Unfortunately, in Afghanistan, this day goes unrecognized. Nurses in the country tirelessly provide care to patients while receiving meager wages and minimal recognition. It is worth noting that male nurses predominantly dominate the workforce in hospitals and health centers. Female nurses, who work in certain facilities, encounter various challenges. Patients and caregivers must maintain composure and treat the medical staff with respect when seeking healthcare services.

Nilofar (pseudonym) works as a nurse in a government clinic in Kabul. In an interview with Hasht-e Subh Daily, she highlights the challenges of her profession and the inadequate income she receives. Nilofar expresses her frustration, stating, “Our shifts begin at 8 am and end at 3 pm. We struggle to afford even necessities like food and water, having to purchase them out of our own pockets.” She further explains that nurses in Afghanistan lead difficult lives due to insufficient wages from both government and private hospitals, which fail to cover their living expenses.

Noor Ahmad, a nurse employed at a private health center in the Company area of Kabul’s 5th district, expresses his dedication and passion for his work. Despite earning a monthly salary of 8,000 Afghanis, which falls short of meeting his household expenses, Noor Ahmad continues to serve the people due to his love for the profession. He further mentions that he works six days a week and additionally takes on night shifts twice a week.

These nurses stress that they have to bear the harsh words of doctors, patients, and caregivers while they are working. They urge patients and caregivers to manage their anger when they come to healthcare centers and treat the nurses with respect.

Nurses globally play a vital role in patient care, and to acknowledge their contributions, May 12th is celebrated as International Nurses Day. The Ministry of Health under the Taliban regime has acknowledged that the healthcare services in Afghanistan do not meet international standards due to a shortage of nurses. As per global standards, a nurse can care for five to seven patients daily, but in Afghanistan, a single nurse is responsible for dozens of patients.

A 2019 report from the Ministry of Public Health of the previous government revealed that there is one nurse per doctor in Afghanistan, whereas international standards recommend four nurses per doctor. The number of male nurses still outweighs the number of female nurses by five times. Given the large number of patients and casualties due to the ongoing war, nurses in Afghanistan are burdened with a heavier workload. Surveys indicate that the average salary of a nurse in Afghanistan is approximately 8,000 Afghanis, which is inadequate to meet a family’s basic expenses.

In contrast, after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August 2021, financial assistance from the international community to the country has significantly diminished. Consequently, the healthcare system is on the verge of collapse. Numerous healthcare center employees have resigned or shifted to different professions due to reduced salaries or disruptions. Aid organizations warn that the health sector in Afghanistan, primarily overseen by non-governmental organizations, is now on the brink of an “imminent” collapse.

In the meantime, the Taliban’s Ministry of Public Health asserts that they have employed over 3,000 women in different areas of the healthcare sector in the past year and a half. This claim by the Taliban’s Ministry of Health coincides with the ban on girls’ education beyond the sixth grade, the closure of universities to women, and the prohibition of women working with non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan.