Nursing and midwifery is high on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) agenda.
In May, the new Strategic Directions for Strengthening Nursing and Midwifery was launched; there is a United Nations High Level Commission on health employment and economic growth jointly chaired by François Hollande, President of France, and Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa due to report in September; and, either directly or indirectly, all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (successor to the Millennium Development Goals) have implications for health. But where exactly do the global institutions and policy makers receive advice in relation to the nursing and midwifery workforce?
A key source of expertise is through the WHO Collaborating Centres for Nursing and Midwifery. This is a network of organisations from across the six WHO regions of the world that undertake advocacy and evidence-based policy work to maximise the contribution of nursing and midwifery to improve access to and the quality of healthcare for people around the world. These centres work in partnership with the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and International Council of Midwives (ICM) both of whom are formally recognised by the United Nations as independent expert advisers for their professions.
In July these groups met in Glasgow along with the senior WHO staff leading on nursing and midwifery in WHO regional offices and the HQ in Geneva. The agenda covered a wide range of issues including responding to the global threat of antimicrobial resistance, nursing’s role in responding to global disasters and the scale of non-communicable diseases which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has described as a ‘public health emergency in slow motion’.
There is no doubt that nurses are right at the centre of the plans to tackle all these issues. That is why Jim Campbell, the WHO Director leading work to grow the healthcare workforce, said not only must politicians ‘cherish’ health workers but also invest in them.
The links between good health, population safety, social cohesion, justice and equality as well as global security and economic prosperity have never been clearer, hence the political attention that health threats such as Zika and Ebola now receive.
There is a new political discourse emerging in relation to health and the nursing profession should not be shy about participating in that debate, because the decisions that are taken in relation to healthcare today will shape and create the world of tomorrow. Hundreds of nurses also make the ultimate sacrifice while caring for patients in conflict zones and disease outbreaks and to these we owe a debt – raising our voices is a fitting legacy to them.
Howard Catton, consultant in nursing and health policy, International Council of Nurses, Geneva