Dr Tedros Calls For Investment In Nurses, Highlights WHA 2020 Focus On Nurses & Midwives

In a surprise appearance before the 2019 Congress of the International Council of Nurses, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that investing in a stronger nursing workforce is essential for achieving universal health coverage (UHC). He proposed that “every country bring one nurse and one midwife to the World Health Assembly next year,” as part of planned celebrations of the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, saying: “The world must hear their voices and their stories.”

Health workers are not a cost, they’re “an investment that pays a triple return for health, gender equality and economic growth,” Dr Tedros said, citing the 2016 United Nations High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth.

“The world is facing a shortfall of 18 million health workers needed to achieve and sustain universal health coverage by 2030,” added the Director-General in his remarks Sunday before the Congress. Nurses and midwives make up half of this projected shortfall – a gap of 9 million professionals.

“Good move Dr Tedros. Women deliver health to 5 billion people and will deliver UHC – 70% health workers are women, majority nurses with critical role on front-lines [of] global health. Investing in female health workforce is smart move,” said Ann Keeling of Women in Global Health in a Tweet.

The WHO Director-General also noted that a first-ever WHO State of the World’s Nursing report will be published next year ahead of the WHA and during the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. A State of the World’s Midwifery report will also be launched around the same time. The year will also cap off a three-year NursingNow! campaign (2018-2020), which was aimed at raising the status of nursing worldwide.

Photo: Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

The appearance by Dr Tedros at the five-day Congress in Singapore, which ended yesterday, underscores the emphasis that the World Health Organization is putting on health workers as a key component of UHC strategies.

“We simply cannot achieve universal health coverage and the health-related targets in the Sustainable Development Goals unless we empower and equip nurses and midwives, and harness their power,” said Dr Tedros in his remarks at the conference, adding that “any society with too few health workers is operating with one hand tied behind its back.”

“We can have the best medicines, the best diagnostics, the best hospitals and the best health insurance, but if we don’t have health workers delivering safe, effective, people-centred care, we don’t have a health system.”

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) is a federation of more than 130 national nurses’ associations representing the millions of nurses worldwide. The theme of its 2019 Congress (27 June – 1 July) was to explore “the many ways in which nurses work to achieve universal access to health, not only providing health care but also addressing the social determinants of health, such as education, gender equality, poverty, etc.”

ICN President Annette Kennedy said at the Congress that the WHO’s “goal of Health for All will only be achieved if there are enough properly trained nurses working at the right time and in the right place.” She added that “ICN will always strive to influence health, social, educational and economic policies to bring the best out of nurses and ensure they can provide the world with the care, treatment and comfort that only they can deliver.”

The WHO Director-General emphasised the importance of the WHO partnership with ICN, which celebrated its 120th anniversary this year, “on a range of issues, including primary health care, universal health coverage, quality of care, noncommunicable diseases, antimicrobial resistance, and more.”

Dr Tedros also referred to last week’s G20 leaders declaration, issued on 29 June at the close of the G20 meeting in Japan, which includes the commitment to “strengthen health systems, with a focus on quality, including through enhancing health workforce and human resources.”

“We must all hold the G20 leaders to the commitments they have made,” he said.

Image Credits: Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

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