Professional associations are entities aimed at determining professional standards, educational requirements and the scopes of practice for professionals. Health care professional associations serves as platforms which play a role in the development of supportive, robust, constructive relations among practitioners and stakeholders such as the ministry of health, training institutions and other health care professionals. In addition, these professional associations serve as a bridge that connects the needs of health care consumers, policmakers and the health professionals delivering services. Thus professional associations are defined as organised bodies which are usually established not for profit but formed to represent a particular profession in order to promote merit, inform and influence policy and practice.
It is well documented that professional associations in health care have a significant role to play in the growth and strengthening of the professions including the professional growth and development of practitioners. Most importantly, the involvement of health care workers in professional matters enables them to engage and put pressure on health care authorities to improve conditions of service, recognition, remuneration and the much needed opportunities to progress in the profession.
Professional associations such as those for midwives and nurses can promote high standards of practice, help to advocate for the needs of midwives, nurses and consumers, build networks with other professional associations with a common goal and liaise with the ministry of health and the regulatory bodies. Without a doubt, when professional associations are strengthened, there is guaranteed improvement in the quality of health care through knowledge and skills development and capacity strengthening.
Even more important, professional associations help midwives and nurses to promote sharing of best and evidence-based practices through collaboration with other professional associations and networks. Most importantly, professional associations also have an ability to build capacity in health policy advocacy through training and promoting evidence-based policies and programs.
Furthermore, professional associations also help to promote harmonization and standards of education and practice of midwives and nurses. Evidence has shown that strong professional associations ensure the public of high standards of care and advocates for clients’ needs while motivating new and experienced midwives and nurses to continually improve the quality of care they provide as they proceed along a thought-provoking, endowing and rewarding career trajectory.
In Namibia, there is a need for vigorous continuous support and strengthening the much needed midwifery workforce to enable them to continue responding to the current and future needs in sexual, reproductive, maternal and new-born health and to achieve universal health coverage. In addition, evidence has indicated that a strong support for midwifery associations can assist with the strengthening of such a workforce. Moreover, challenges such as women dying from preventable maternal deaths, teenage and adolescent pregnancies, women and girls dying from unsafe abortions, and gender-based violence can be solved by well-educated and well supported midwives.
From the times of colonialism in Namibia, the midwifery profession was seen as a sub speciality within the nursing profession. Hence in 2014, a group of passionate and determined midwives came together to form and establish a midwifery association in Namibia. This is a voluntary unincorporated non-profit association which was initiated to ensure that Namibian midwives are skilled, supported and motivated.
Furthermore, the association also encourages a sense of unity among Namibian midwives in areas of continuous professional development and education which helps to promote and strengthen the midwifery profession. Since its establishment, the association has enabled midwives to directly and actively engage with stakeholders in Namibia and beyond towards strengthening, improvement and ensuring quality maternal and child health care.
Even more important, the association has also been represented around tables when issues concerning midwives and midwifery are discussed. It is therefore important for more if not all midwives to realise the need of coming together and forming a much stronger voice to influence midwifery policies and to establish the midwifery practice standards. In the same vein, there is a need for continuous and strong midwifery association support from stakeholders and lawmakers to enable midwives to be fully recognised as competent and autonomous professionals.
It the book titled “The history of nursing in Namibia” it is documented that during the period preceding the independence of the country, there was a nursing association which had a strong influence in nursing matters, and after independence, in terms of the constitution of the country, the Namibian Nursing Association Act No. 28 of 1993 was promulgated. One of the objectives of the nursing association was to develop efficient and adequate nursing services through research, nursing education and management.
It can thus be said with confidence that professional associations contribute significant values to the strengthening of professions. It is also without doubt that professional associations play significant roles in developing the art and science of particular professions.
Thus if passionate professionals unify their voices through association memberships, their efforts will have a stronger voice to influence policies and help change in practice! “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.
*Tekla Shiindi-Mbidi is a lecturer at IUM; the views are expressed in her own capacity as a young midwife leader and as a member of the board of directors for the Independent Midwives Association of Namibia (IMANA).