Investing in nurses

Countries around the world are currently battling the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with its rising death toll and number of positive cases daily. Health systems and health workers are being challenged to their maximum, as no country was ever prepared to deal with a crisis of this proportion. In the middle of all of this are the health care workers — including doctors, nurses, medical assistants, lab technicians and others — who are making tremendous sacrifices every day, even risking their lives to win this battle.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen reports from the international media about the selfless service these frontline workers are offering to save lives and contain the further spread of this deadly virus. In fact, there were a few reports of some of these frontline workers, after being so overwhelmed with witnessing the suffering of persons firsthand and with seeing the magnitude of the task ahead, becoming depressed and even committing suicide.
Right here, in Guyana, there were reports about healthcare professionals who are on the frontlines of the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak being stigmatized and discriminated against by public transport operators and some business owners. Officials of the Georgetown Hospital had related that healthcare workers were being refused entry into public and private transportation, and had even been asked to leave supermarkets when in uniform and badge. This was done out of fear by persons who felt they could have contracted the virus very easily by having any contact with such persons.
This is indeed very unfortunate, as these healthcare workers continue to put their lives on the line while providing an invaluable and selfless service to the nation by saving lives and helping to alleviate suffering of persons.
The challenges health workers, especially nurses, face daily cannot be underestimated. For this reason, governments and other health partners must continue to make the necessary investments in them, to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge and are well equipped with the resources they need to do their work in a comfortable and safe environment.
Historically, as well as today, nurses are at the forefront of fighting epidemics and pandemics that threaten health across the globe. As we have seen around the world, they are demonstrating their compassion, bravery and courage as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A new report, titled, The State of the World’s Nursing 2020, which was published recently, provides an in-depth look into the nursing profession. Compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and Nursing Now, the report produced findings which identify important gaps in the nursing workforce and priority areas for investment in nursing education, jobs, and leadership, to strengthen nursing around the world.
That report points to the shortage of nurses worldwide and notes that, to address this shortage, countries would need to increase the total number of nurse graduates by on average eight percent per year, along with improved ability to be employed and retained in the health system.
The report reveals that today there are just under 28 million nurses worldwide. Between 2013 and 2018, nursing numbers had increased by 4.7 million. But this still leaves a global shortfall of 5.9 million – with the greatest gaps found in countries in Africa, South East Asia and the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region, as well as in some parts of Latin America.
To equip the world with the nursing workforce it needs, WHO and its partners have made a number of recommendations. These include: increase funding to educate and employ more nurses; strengthen capacity to collect, analyze and act on data about the health workforce; and monitor nurse mobility and migration, and manage it responsibly and ethically.
It has also been recommended that countries educate and train nurses in the scientific, technological and sociological skills they need to drive progress in primary health care; establish leadership positions, and support leadership development among young nurses; and ensure that nurses in primary health care teams work to their full potential, for example in preventing and managing noncommunicable diseases; and improve working conditions, including through safe staffing levels and fair salaries etc.
The report’s message is clear: without nurses, midwives, and other health workers, countries cannot win the battle against outbreaks, or achieve universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals.