APHNH calls for greater support for Sri Lanka’s female healthcare workers

In commemoration of Women’s Equality Day, The Association of Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes (APHNH) called for greater recognition and support towards female healthcare professionals and reiterated its commitment to enhancing the education and advancement of women in the healthcare sector.

Particularly in the context of increased risks for healthcare professionals owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, APHNH President Dr. Lakith Peiris noted that most pre-existing gender-specific issues had been further exacerbated.

“Like in many other critical sectors of the Sri Lankan economy, women play a vital role in the healthcare sector. It is therefore essential that all Sri Lankans make an effort to understand the challenges they face, appreciate their contributions and actively pursue policies that address these issues,” he stated.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) data from 2019, women make up 67% of the health workforce – particularly in nursing and midwifery sectors – across 104 countries surveyed. According to APHNH estimates, women make up close to 70% of the private health sector locally, while analysis carried out by the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs in 2016 indicate that females hold 62% of health and social work jobs in Sri Lanka.

Given global and domestic trends towards an ageing population and parallel increases in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and chronic illnesses, Dr. Peiris warned that already prevailing shortages in nursing professionals would drastically spike with increasing demand for such services.

The ratio of nurses to the population in Sri Lanka stood at approximately 2 nurses per 1,000 Sri Lankans in 2015, up from about 1 nurse per 1,000 in 2005 (Sri Lankan Ministry of Health, 2018). According to the WHO, an estimated shortage in nursing professionals between 5000 and 6000 has been projected for the year 2030.

A main contributory factor to this shortage is the high female employee attrition rate. According to employee data from APHNH, female healthcare workers are typically compelled to leave their jobs after marriage or childbirth due to domestic responsibilities, leading to an estimated turnover rate close to 30%.

In response to this, APHNH recommends that industry members look into constructing crèches or similar childcare facilities at their institutions, with the hope this will not only improve female employee retention rates, but also facilitate full and equal participation of women in the industry. Similarly, the association is also working to introduce improved educational services for paramedical service providers, which is expected to generate an increase in qualified nurses and in other critical roles dominated by females.

To that end, APHNH has developed a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Level 6 for nursing, which has been approved by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) and the National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority (NAITA). This training also functions as an internationally recognized qualification. Similar APHNH training initiatives for nurses include a three year nursing programme, a 1 year nursing assistant programme, and a four-month gap filling programme. Furthermore, APHNH also plans to introduce Pharmacy Assistant and Medical Laboratory Technology (MLT) training programmes into their expanding educational curriculum. Additionally, APHNH has initiated in-service training for different fields.

APHNH reports that their training programmes have had far-reaching benefits as more than half the medical students in Sri Lanka are female, and around 70% of students enrolled in paramedical education are female (Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, 2016).

Dr. Lakith Peiris commended the contribution of women in the healthcare sector, stating “Since the emergence of the COVID pandemic, the Sri Lankan healthcare response has been among the strongest and most successful in the world with only 136 active COVID cases as at 25 August 2020. A significant proportion of this success is a result of the courageous efforts of men and many more women in both the public and private healthcare sectors who have been on the frontlines of this crisis. This achievement is made even more impressive given the added burden of an understaffed workforce.

“As an association and on behalf of all Sri Lankans, we once again express our heartfelt gratitude for their life-saving work and pledge to continue driving progressive policies that support female healthcare professionals. One of our key areas of focus moving forward will be the provision of comprehensive childcare facilities which has been among the most immediate concerns for women in the industry. Additionally, we will continue to collaborate with the Government and all other stakeholders on any further initiatives that will ensure equal opportunity and fair treatment of female healthcare professionals,” Dr. Peiris concluded.

About APHNH:

Established in 1972, the APHNH represents all the country’s private hospitals and nursing homes. According to official statistics from the Institute for Health Policy, the private healthcare sector accounts for Rs. 193 billion in expenditure on medical goods and services, which amounts to nearly 55% of the country’s total healthcare cost. As the leading representative of this industry, the association plays a vital role in uplifting healthcare standards and building a healthier country. Through its representation in the Private Health Services Regulatory Council (PHSRC), APHNH plays an important role in the regulation of the country’s private health sector. Over the recent past, its efforts have also included facilitating skills development among healthcare workers, conducting courses for nurses to enhance their capability and contributing to the upliftment of healthcare standards in the country in various ways.