GENEVA: As the coronavirus crisis spirals out of control and captures global headlines, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the world needs nearly six million nurses.
The UN’s health agency along with partners Nursing Now and the International Council of Nurses (ICN) underscored in a report the crucial role played by nurses who make up more than half of all health workers worldwide.
“Nurses are the backbone of any health system,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “Today, many nurses find themselves on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19,” he noted, adding that it was vital they “get the support they need to keep the world healthy.”
The report said that there are just under 28 million nurses on the planet. The number grew by 4.7 million in the five years leading up to 2018, which still leaves a global shortfall of 5.9 million.
The WHO said pointed out that the greatest gaps were in poorer countries in Africa, southeast Asia, the Middle East and parts of South America. The report urged countries to identify gaps in their nursing workforce and invest in nursing education, jobs and leadership.
ICN chief executive Howard Catton told a virtual briefing that infection rates, medication errors and mortality rates “are all higher where there are too few nurses”, adding that the shortages exhaust the current nursing workforce.
Today, we celebrate the work of nurses & midwives by showing our appreciation for their bravery, courage & resolve in the global #COVID19 response.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) April 6, 2020
Mary Watkins, who co-chaired the report for Nursing Now, called for urgent investment in virus tests for healthcare workers in fighting the pandemic. “We have a very high proportion of healthcare workers not going to work because they’re afraid that they’ve been infected and that they can’t prove that they have not got the infection — or that they’ve had it, and they’re over it,” she said.
Catton said that 23 nurses had died in Italy and cited figures suggesting that around 100 health workers had died around the world. He said there were reports of nine percent of health workers being infected in Italy and up to 14 percent in Spain.
He also denounced attacks on health workers battling COVID-19 as “completely unacceptable and reprehensible”, largely due to ignorance about their work, combined with countries not doing enough to protect them.
Catton said that could help change perceptions of the value of nursing, which in turn might help make it a more attractive profession. Watkins said many wealthier countries were not producing enough nurses to meet their own healthcare needs and were therefore reliant on migration.
She noted that eighty percent of the world’s nurses currently serve 50 percent of the world’s population. The experts said nursing remains female-dominated and needed to recruit more men. “There is clear evidence that where there are more men in any profession in the world, the pay and the terms and conditions improve,” Watkins said.
The world needs nearly 6 million more nurses, who are the backbone of health systems. #COVID19 underscores the urgent need to strengthen health workforces globally. @WHO calls on all countries to invest in healthworker education, employment & leadership to achieve #HealthForAll. pic.twitter.com/wAEHdVPcb6
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) April 7, 2020