Decisions taken at two high-level meetings over the past few months have emphasized the need for governments to give urgent attention to investing in the nursing workforce. The shortage of nurses globally is a barrier to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal of good health and well-being for all.
Universal Health Care
The first important meeting was the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) held in September. During that meeting, Heads of States and Governments adopted an extensive political declaration on UHC, supporting the right of people to the highest possible standards of physical and mental health.
In a statement at the meeting, on behalf of the world’s 20 million nurses, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) emphasized the role of nurses in achieving UHC. Nurses are the largest profession in health care and work in all settings. “ICN encourages Governments to heavily invest in a competent health workforce with a focus on nurses and midwives. This includes quality education, recruitment, and retention strategies, and assurance of decent work and fair pay.”
Universal Health Coverage Day
This theme was further emphasized on UHC Day on December 12. Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, pointed out that women were traditionally the healers, carers, and birth attendants, but that this changed when medicine became formalized. While 70% of health care workers today are women, the majority are in lower status and low paid roles. Men hold 75% of the senior positions in health care globally, with the result that the perspectives and talents of women are not being utilized effectively.
One of the significant commitments made during the September UN meeting on UHC was that gender inequality in health care would be addressed. “And as part of that journey, WHO has designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife in order to recognize the vital contribution of the largest single health worker occupation, an occupation comprised of 80% women,” Ghebreyesus said.
”The single biggest threat to UHC is the predicted shortfall in nursing numbers, which WHO puts at nine million by 2030,” Howard Catton, CEO of the ICN, said in a statement on UHC Day. He stressed that if governments were going to live up to their promises, “they must put their hands in their pockets and put the necessary funds into nursing before it’s too late.” They needed to address staff shortages, inadequate education, and a lack of resources.
Global Meeting on NCDs
The second significant meeting of world leaders and experts was the WHO Global Meeting to Accelerate Progress on Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, held in October. This was the second meeting of an Independent High-Level Commission on NCDs which was appointed by the WHO to find new ways to curb these leading causes of death. Although they are mostly preventable through healthier lifestyles, NCDs account for more than 70% of deaths globally.
“ICN is calling on governments to live up to their promises and invest in the nursing workforce because they are the cornerstone of all patient-focused health care systems.” Annette Kennedy, President of the ICN, said at the meeting.
“Nurses have a key role to play in helping people to adjust the way they live so that they can enjoy long, happy, and healthy lives. But they will be hampered by the worldwide shortage of nurses, which is a severe barrier to achieving the successes they could working alongside patients to prevent illness and promote optimum health.”
2020 Year of the Nurse and Midwife
The worldwide commitment to UHC, which includes NCDs and mental health, is bringing the indispensable role of nurses in health care into clear focus. 2020 Year of the Nurse and Midwife is aimed at convincing the world of the compelling need to invest in the profession if they wish to achieve global health goals and avert a future crisis in health care delivery.