By the Principal Nursing Officer
Ms. Margaret Smith
International Nurses Day is celebrated annually on the 12th of May in memory of the birth of the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale, but it is also celebrated to honour nurses as an invaluable global resource and to raise awareness of the challenges nurses face as a professional group.
With the theme for this year being “Our Nurses – Our Future,” it is hoped that this will shine the light on nurses in a more profound way, that will ultimately lead to a brighter future, moving nurses from being invisible to becoming invaluable in the eyes of policymakers, the public, and all who make decisions that affect the delivery and financing of health care, as we continue to emerge from the global COVID-19 pandemic which highlighted unmistakably, the critical role nurses play in health systems’ resiliency.
On May 5th, 2023, just over 3 years since COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency of international concern, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency. Throughout the pandemic however, our nurses made great sacrifices, acted courageously, and recommitted daily to tackle a global health threat that was unprecedented in modern times, serving as an indispensable pillar supporting our respective health system through many very challenging moments.
We most sincerely appreciate and celebrate all our nurses and thank them for their unwavering dedication in the fight against what was a deadly global threat. As a result of the role they played in the nation’s response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the impact was mitigated significantly.
But as we progress towards recovery, we must carefully review the lessons learned from the pandemic and translate these into actions for the future, in a way that will ensure all our nurses are protected, respected, and valued more than ever before.
The recent release of several important nursing publications, such as WHO’s State of the World’s Nursing Report 2020, the State of the World Midwifery Report 2021, and the Global Strategic Direction for Nursing and Midwifery 2021-2025 have shown evidence for change and called for bold investment in nursing in the areas of education and training, jobs, leadership and service delivery. It is now time to look to the future and demonstrate what these investments will mean for nursing and healthcare.
The area of education and training for nurses and midwives is most critical at this time, in light of the growing nurse shortage the region is currently facing, and if left unaddressed, this could pose a significant threat to our progress towards achieving Universal Health Coverage.
The evidence reveals that the world needs about 9 million more nurses and midwives to realize the health-related, global Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. It is also evident that small island developing states such as ours, are likely to be worse affected by this shortage. Further, our sub-region is faced with the additional challenge of our nurses and midwives being poached by our more developed and wealthier northern neighbours.
But as we continue to grapple with the shortage in our respective countries, we must seek to adopt and implement realistic, innovative strategies that will effectively manage the problem in such a way, that will ensure that small island developing states such as ours can retain sufficient nurses and midwives, to meet the needs of our health system.
Among these strategies include but are not limited to, increasing national investment in nursing and midwifery education and training, increasing the number of graduates in nursing and midwifery, improving employment options, and developing and implementing a sustainable retention plan.
In addition to leveraging pandemic lessons to support nurses going forward, this year’s theme “Our Nurses – Our Future” campaign calls for us to also look at how our health system must be strengthened to address growing health demands in a post-pandemic era, while at the same time prepare us to reposition ourselves to be better prepared for the next global public health threat.
It is indisputable that investing in nurses and midwives is good value for money. According to the United Nations (UN) High-Level Commission on Health, Employment, and Economic Growth investment in education and job creation in the health and social sectors, results in a threefold return in terms of improved health outcomes, global health security, and inclusive economic growth.
Among all healthcare workers, nurses play a very critical role particularly in Primary Health Care, often being the first – and only – health professional a patient sees. Our nurses contribute to research, disease prevention, treating the injured, administering palliative care, chronic disease management, and more. They are the true unsung heroes on the front lines of disease prevention and care.
Impelled by the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in the Region of the Americas, which now stands at its highest point in the last 30 years, CARICOM Health Ministers recently pledged that regional Governments must return their immunization programs to the top of the political agenda, to better tackle the threats of vaccine-preventable diseases and thus adopted a 5-point action-plan to achieve this objective. It is well established that Regional immunization programmes including ours in Antigua and Barbuda, are primarily managed by nurses.
Emphasizing, therefore, the true value of our nurses, and the central role they play in influencing change, can help to increase the awareness of their significance to our health system and help to transform the future of health care in our country.
It is therefore imperative that we continue to work towards strengthening our nursing and midwifery education and practice through the implementation of the recommendations of the Global Strategic Directions for Nursing and Midwifery 2021-2025, which will help to guide the contributions of our nurses and midwives towards achieving our national health goals.
I also strongly recommend that we seek to fully adopt, adapt and implement the recommendations of the Regional Nursing Body’s Strategic Plan for Nursing and Midwifery 2020-2024 which speak to strengthening Nursing Education, Nursing Practice, and Nursing Management and Leadership.
I further implore every nurse and midwife to become a member of WHO’s Nursing and Midwifery Global Community of Practice virtual network if you are not already a member. This is a forum that allows nurses and midwives around the world to collaborate with one another, with WHO, and with other key stakeholders, thus helping to broaden perspectives on nursing issues and better equip individuals to deliberate on matters related to nursing and midwifery education and practice.
I wish also to take the opportunity on this International Nurses’ Day, to call on our government to commit to the necessary investment to help improve the attractiveness of the nursing profession in our country. This will require improvement in working conditions, support for education and training, upskilling opportunities, job creation, and better remuneration packages.
It is also imperative that the necessary support be provided for nursing leadership to be optimized and be given the mandate to drive the nursing agenda across education, employment, policy, and practice.
The evidence reveals that about 80% of primary health care can be delivered by nurses and about 90% of sexual and reproductive, maternal, newborn, and adolescent health, can be delivered by well-trained competent midwives and this was evident during the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic response experience, therefore, is an important platform that should be used to reiterate how integral nurses are to the maintenance of routine healthcare delivery, while also responding to a global public health crisis, thus making the case for investing in nursing education, jobs, and leadership clear. It is time to commit to actions that will help shape the future.
In conclusion, the theme for International Nurses Day 2023, “Our Nurses – Our Future” captures the key actions that are essential to address both the nursing profession and health systems which are “mutually beneficial and reinforcing”. Working together, our future will depend on every nurse and every voice to not only be on the front lines of care, but also on the front lines of change.
A hearty thank you to every nurse for the work you do 24/7 every day, to care for your patients and clients. You are indeed unsung heroes of our nation.
Happy International Nurses Day 2023!