By Sultana Afdhal, CEO, World Innovation Summit for Health – an initiative of Qatar Foundation
The year 2020 has been named as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife by the World Health Organization (WHO). With the world presently engulfed by an unprecedented healthcare challenge, this designation could not be more timely.
COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the selfless contributions of nurses on the frontline of the global pandemic. They account for almost 60 percent of health professionals worldwide, and are in the highest risk category for contracting the virus. In Italy, healthcare workers make up 9 percent of all COVID-19 cases, while in Spain this figure is as high as 14 percent. To date, over 100 National Health Service workers in the UK have died after contracting the coronavirus. Meanwhile, official data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests these frontline workers account for 11 percent of all infections in the United States.
Even as we struggle to comprehend the enormous toll that the virus has taken across all sectors of society, these figures are particularly sobering. The fortitude and selflessness of nurses the world over must be recognized and applauded.
There is currently a global shortfall of nurses and midwives, and recent events demonstrate the urgent need to raise their numbers and place them at the heart of resilient healthcare systems all around the world.
My own journey to understanding the critical role that nurses play began with the commissioning of the 2018 WISH report on Nursing and Universal Healthcare Coverage, led by our research group chair, Lord Nigel Crisp, co-chair of Nursing Now, a global initiative launched by the International Council for Nurses and the WHO in 2018.
The report showed strong public backing for nurses to play a greater role in health services, and demonstrated that they are well-positioned to manage the defining health challenges of modern times.
Through nursing leadership courses, symposiums, and workshops, we are empowering nurses to expand their horizons in meaningful ways, learn new skills, and make their voices heard in healthcare policymaking.
In Qatar, our work is a collaborative effort, supported by the Nursing Now committee which is co-chaired by the Chief Nursing Officer at Hamad Medical Corporation and myself, and brings together senior representatives of WISH, Primary Health Care Corporation, Al-Ahli Hospital, and the University of Calgary in Qatar.
We are already witnessing some remarkable changes. Qatar’s nurses are growing in confidence as they realize their true potential and look to become researchers, leaders, and educators. The aim is to inspire more Qataris to take up the profession, build on the skills that nurses of today already possess, leverage technology, and applaud the work they are doing.
Recently, I was honored to be part of the Steering Committee of the State of the World’s Nursing Report 2020, launched by the WHO on April 7. Based on data from 191 countries, the first-of-its-kind report details the latest evidence and policy options for the global nursing workforce. It maps out key recommendations for the nursing sector, to help deliver the 2030 global Sustainable Development Goals and universal healthcare coverage (UHC). These include the need for governments to invest in a massive acceleration of nursing education, the need for six million new nursing jobs to be created by 2030 (primarily in low and middle-income countries), and investments to be made in nurse leadership – new models of care, advanced practice roles, and policy decision-making – to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of health and social care systems. It is an agenda we must commit to.
At WISH, we recognize that nurses are the backbone of our healthcare systems, yet millions of people are unable to access the crucial primary care services that they provide. For instance, across Africa, there are only 8.7 nurses per 10,000 population, while in the US, 27.9 million people have no health insurance – particularly dire statistics in light of the current situation.
To coincide with the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, WISH is leading the development of special reports, one of which will focus on men in nursing, in partnership with the British Medical Journal. The reports are expected to be published in time for the WISH 2020 summit, set to take place from November 16–18.
Additionally, WISH is working on a policy recommendations paper, Nursing and Midwifery Workforce Development, offering a global perspective as well as a specific focus on Qatar. This policy paper will also be ready for WISH 2020, and we look forward to sharing the findings with global healthcare leaders.
Alongside our other efforts, WISH has partnered with the Nursing Now campaign to give young nurses a voice at the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, an annual gathering of health ministers organized by the WHO. In May last year, nurses from 18 countries participated in five days of meetings, talks, workshops and networking opportunities, offering a chance to positively influence global healthcare policy.
As the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic, it is time to applaud the amazing contributions of our nurses, and that of all healthcare professionals working tirelessly to keep us safe from harm. But applause is not enough – nurses are our healthcare heroes, and investment in nursing represents an investment in our future.