Men nursing men to take better care of their health
Male nurses are essential to help men get over their prejudices and accept proper healthcare
Velaphi Bhengu didn’t always want to be a nurse, but the 34-year-old is grateful that his stumbled-into career is allowing him to change the world – one man at a time.
Bhengu, from Eshowe in northern KwaZulu-Natal, is part of a four-person, all-male team that hopes to change his gender's mindset and get them to care about their health. So far, it seems to be working.
“Men are now coming to the facility for health services. Some men who came before bring other men to the facility for health services as well. We see around 300 males a month,” Bhengu told Times Select last week.
He was speaking ahead of International Nurses Day, which took place on Saturday.Bhengu, a qualified and practising nurse for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is the supervisor for his team at a project called Philandodo, which targets “high transmission areas” including farms, rural areas and industrial sites. When he first joined MSF in 2013 he worked on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, but he now works exclusively on healthcare projects for men.
“I know that most men don’t like to go to the clinic, so this programme is especially focused on linking them to care. As a man, I get to reach out and help fellow men with their health issues linked to TB and HIV testing and treatment,” he said.
Bhengu said a survey showed that men tended to avoid getting healthcare, particularly in rural areas, for a number of reasons including:
Cultural beliefs, such as males believe that they need to be strong, so even when they are sick they don’t go to health facilities because they will be seen as weak.
Long waiting times in health facilities: men don’t like to wait as they are not patient.
Men are not comfortable discussing their health problems with female staff; they feel more comfortable with male staff.
The presence of females and children in waiting areas. They feel that waiting with them will decrease their dignity and they may be perceived as weak.
Most males believe more in traditional care rather than Western healthcare.
But successes – thanks at least partly to a strategy that targets, among other places, taxi ranks to get men to come to their facility – are starting to mount. Having an all-male team to tend to the patients also makes a huge difference.“They seem to be more comfortable with us males rather than females and they even mention that it is easier to discuss ‘male’ problems with us,” said Bhengu.
Bhengu, who is engaged and has two children, said it was vital that health care was taken to those who needed it most.
“I didn’t initially plan to become a nurse. When my time to go to college arrived, I received a government scholarship to study nursing and, a few years down the line, here I am as a professional helping people most in need of healthcare. I am excited to see the improvements with access to healthcare for men and people in more remote areas,” he said.
Nursing is considered one of the most crucial aspects of patient care – to the extent that the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health said in a pre-Nurses Day event last week that it wanted nurses to “go back to basics” in the provision of healthcare. MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo was also in the final throes of consolidating plans to use the skills and expertise of retired nurses to improve the quality of healthcare service in the province.
Addressing current and retired nurses and department officials, Dhlomo said: “We need to look at what has gone wrong and go back to those basics where nurses were the foundation of love, empathy and care.
“Throughout the world, if you complain about a poor health system, you would improve that system if you bring back to basics the role that is to be played by nurses. The nurse is an ambassador for patient care. The nurse is the main person that comes in the middle of discussions and advises because the patient stays longer with a nurse than any other health professionals.
“The doctor comes for a limited period, so does a pharmacist, but the nurse stays for eight hours and will be followed by another nurse when the shift ends. Therefore, if you want to take care of patients and have them satisfied, we need to listen to nurses.”..