By CPN reporter
Penninah Wanjala is in her early 50s and has worked as a nurse close to three decades in different hospitals across the country.
Much of Ms Wanjala time was spent at the ante-natal department, which was ever full of expectant mothers waiting to be served and this could see her work for 12 hours a day.
Exhausted from the day’s work, she would feel a sharp pain on the lower abdomen that later turned into a debilitating back pain and with this, she took an early retirement.
Most of the times, she would relay of painkillers to easy the body pain so as to be able to continue serving her clients.
“It’s disheartening that we nurses do everything humanly possible to care for the health of others but we cannot care for ourselves. I now cannot bend over or carry a heavy load on my head,” said the retired nurse during the interview at her home in Miyanga village, Bumula Sub County.
Nurses in Kenya make up the largest group of healthcare providers but their work is not easy. They have to do with many hours of work.
According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), nursing is ranked as the fifth among occupations most at risk for strains and sprains after construction workers, air traffic controllers, traffic police officers and stock handlers.
In a survey conducted in Mombasa, Kisumu, Nairobi, Kakamega and Nakuru involving 300 nurses and whose findings were released yesterday, majority of them reported experiencing regular back pain.
According to Eileen Mulaa, an exercise and sports science expert from the department of Exercise Science and Recreation Sports at Kenyatta University, who carried out the survey, the research targeted nurses working in leading Level Four and Five hospitals.
The results were released in Kakamega town at a workshop themed ‘Why nurses need to be looked after’.
“After analyzing the responses, at least 45 per cent of the nurses reported to be having low back pain and that they always take painkillers (diclofenac) to suppress the pain when at work. Another 20 per cent had symptoms of depression, an incidence twice as high as for the general population,” said Ms Mulaa.
Another 15 per cent of the nurses reported to be experiencing some level of physical pain from muscle sprain or strain while at work and that 10 per cent of the corresponds had been hospitalized at some point due to the low back pain.
“At most, eight per cent of the sampled nurses reported that they feel pressure to report to work when sick since absence from work means more work for their fellow nurses. They are compelled to report to work as they are supposed to care for everyone and soldier on,” said Ms Mulaa.
She noted that majority of the nurses reported understaffing in the health facilities which makes them work for long hours without having off days from work, saying 2 per cent were hesitant to disclose how they feel for fear of losing jobs.
“Improper lifting of patients or loads at the hospital, quick movements to prevent a patient from falling, type of shoe they wear, long working hours and lack of physical exercise were the leading causes of low back pain among the nurses,” said Ms Mulaa.
She said nurses who maintain muscle strength, flexibility and normal weight are less likely to get hurt, adding that they wear comfortable (flat) shoe since they are good shock absorbers.
She said observe proper mechanics in lifting patients or loads to prevent having low back pain, saying if not checked, can lead to permanent disability.
Issah Kweyu, from the department of Health Promotion and Sports Science at Masinde Muliro said low back pain leads to low work output, absenteeism from work and a high wage bill to the hospital/employer treating the nurses.
Mr Kweyu said to manage the problem, health facilities should consider carrying out an awareness program on benefits of physical exercise to its staff, have a workplace fitness program and also establish a fitness facility inside the facilities.
“The Nursing Council to include exercise science in the nursing curriculum to enable nurses prescribe proper exercises to their patients and they (nurses) themselves to have knowledge on dealing with low back pain among other occupation related hazards,” said Mr Kweyu.
Low back pain can lead to disability
45 per cent reported having back pain
Nursing ranked fifth risky occupation
PIX EILEEN MULAA