As we celebrate ‘World Health Day’ on April 7, the spotlight for the year 2020 rests on a heroic fraction of the health workforce that is a critical component of the world health security but often goes unrewarded with the recognition they rightly deserve - nurses and midwives.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared ‘Support Nurses and Midwives’ as this year’s theme for the global health awareness day, a move described as “momentous” by the WHO Representative to Maldives Dr Arvind Mathur as he stressed the importance of raising the status and profile of nursing and midwifery around the world.
In an exclusive interview with The Edition, Dr Mathur shed light on the staggering duties, responsibilities and sacrifices that nursing and midwifery entail, which are brought to sharper contrast in times of crises - like right now, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“[In a crisis like the virus pandemic], in terms of preparedness, readiness and response, nurses are at the centre of it and they are at the front line”, he said, touching upon how nurses care for patients diagnosed or suspected of infection, for the duration of their treatment or isolation periods, thereby placing their own selves at the risk of exposure to save others.
“As for midwives, they are the ones ensuring safe delivery, to give a positive childbirth experience to every woman. They ensure that the child is born into a world that is safe, that every newborn can avoid preventable diseases or death”.
While the world has certainly seen much better days, Dr Mathur highlighted that the services of these healthcare professionals are no less vital even then, in terms of the safe, effective, respectful and quality services they provide.
“Whether it is in the emergency room, ICU or operation theatres, across all levels nurses and midwives play critical roles in delivering care”, he stated, further stressing their contributions to WHO’s global efforts to provide universal health coverage.
Thus, the doctor underscored the uncompromising necessity to ensure adequate protection for these healthcare providers, especially while they are on the frontline, such as personal protective equipment to safeguard them from exposure during the virus pandemic.
“I’m very glad that this has been a priority in the cases I have come across in Maldives and the South East Asia region”, he added.
According to WHO, 70 percent of the health and social workforce are women, with nurses and midwives comprising a large portion. Looking at the health workforce alone, nurses constitute more than half, and yet they are not enough.
“In 2018, the global density of nurses and midwives is 37 per 10,000 population against a criteria of around 40 per 10,000 population. That indicates we do have a shortage of nurses and midwives”, said Dr Mathur, adding that the South East Asia Region will require as many as 1.9 million more nurses and midwives by 2030.
The situation is highly reflected in Maldives as well, where the local nursing workforce has continuously raised concerns over the years over insufficient pay and overburdened duties. However, these caregivers have always been on hand to take care of their patients despite the burdens, challenges and stress on their shoulders.
But who takes care of them in turn?
“It’s what we call ‘care for the caregivers’”, said Dr Mathur.
Acknowledging the burdens and long shifts of nurses and midwives which, in most cases, are overwhelming, Dr Mathur called on policy-makers and leaders of the healthcare sector to ensure appropriate working hours while minimising occupational hazards.
He noted that WHO continuously advocates for provision of mechanisms to help healthcare professionals deal with stress and cope with the strenuous demands of their work. As the need for their services increases at this time, the importance of advocacy rises accordingly.
Such mechanisms should include access to mental health care and psychosocial support, he stressed, adding that the elevated status and profile of nurses and midwives with the 2020 theme aims to empower caregivers to seek such help.
Moreover, Dr Mathur urged policy and decision-makers to establish positive and enabling environments for caregivers, with adequate motivation, remuneration and recognition to acknowledge and promote their unwavering commitment and sacrifices.
He also elaborated on the need to invest in building up the nursing and midwifery workforce, especially through quality education and appropriate curriculum and training; a goal that can be achieved by the public and private sectors working hand-in-hand.
As the challenges that may arise in the future be different from today's, evolving education and professional development are vital to prepare health workers accordingly. A valuable resource highlighted by Dr Mathur is OpenWHO, an interactive, knowledge-transfer online platform launched by WHO offering online courses to improve response to health emergencies. The platform is also proving beneficial to health professionals around the world amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is one that actually pays a triple return that improves health outcomes, enhances health security and inspires economic growth”, he declared.
“We need a health workforce that we’re preparing not only for today but tomorrow".
As part of WHO’s advocacy efforts, WHO Maldives brought the global campaign ‘Nursing Now’ to the archipelago in 2019. The 3-year ‘Nursing Now Maldives’ follows the sentiments of the theme discussed thus far, aiming to elevate the status of nurses and bring to public attention the gravity of their responsibilities.
Meanwhile, in recognition of nurses and caregivers, WHO Maldives also launched a special social media campaign on the historical milestones achieved in nursing and midwifery, to raise public awareness of their innumerable contributions to the health security and development of the country.
The organisation has also conducted programmes on capacity building, training and workshops, with more activities planned in the areas of leadership, education and research development in the health sector.
Amidst all this, Dr Mathur highlighted one more thing that each and every individual can, and by all means must, do in order to support the heroes amongst us that wear not capes but masks - respect and treat nurses and midwives with the respect and dignity they deserve.
“I would reiterate, reaffirm and request everyone to respect the contributions that a nurse and midwife make to keep every individual happy, healthy and safe”.