With nurses being at the vanguard of health service delivery in many countries, it is obvious that their voices must be heard loudly, if good, effective policies and interventions are to be implemented. They must be empowered to participate in a meaningful way, in the planning, implementation and evaluation stages
By Clara Affun-Adegbulu*
Intern and Researcher, Health Policy Unit, Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium; Masters (MPH) student, University of Vienna, Austria
Finally in the (Global Health) Spotlight, Nurses Now!
Last week, on the 27th of February, Burdett Trust for Nursing, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Council of Nurses, launched Nursing Now with a series of events worldwide. Nursing Now is a global campaign that aims “to improve health globally by raising the profile and status of nurses worldwide – influencing policymakers and supporting nurses themselves to lead, learn and build a global movement.”
As a nurse, and someone who is passionate about improving health, healthcare and access to healthcare, I am happy about this development. This is because even though globally, nurses account for almost 50% of the health workforce, they have, for far too long, been left out of global health discussions. In fact a quick scan through the CVs of many of the actors within the global health community, would show that doctors, economists, anthropologists, and other social scientists dominate the arena of health systems research and policy, with nurses being highly underrepresented. Yet they play an important role in health systems all over the world, and will be critical to the achievement of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) goal that was set during the 58th World Health Assembly in 2005.
According to the WHO, universal health coverage “means that all people and communities can use the promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship.” Clearly, a key factor to the achievement of this goal, is the quality of health services which should be “good enough to improve the health of those receiving services.”
With nurses being at the vanguard of health service delivery in many countries, it is obvious that their voices must be heard loudly, if good, effective policies and interventions are to be implemented. They must be empowered to participate in a meaningful way, in the planning, implementation and evaluation stages.
How can this be done?
Firstly, the nursing cadre must be recognised as a fundamental part of the health system. This recognition should go beyond just empty words, and should be accompanied by fair pay for the people at the frontlines who are often the face of the health system. This will have the double effect of promoting gender equality, and sustainable development particularly in developing countries. Most crucially, fair pay for their work will show nurses all over the world, that they are as valued as any other member of the health profession, and their contributions are just useful and important. This is vital, because many nurses, as a result of constant belittling, do not think they have anything to contribute the health systems and policy discussions and debates.
Secondly, nurses should be trained properly and supported in their desire for professional development. They should also be encouraged to seek out further education opportunities particularly in research and academia. This would automatically give more of them, access to leadership positions, as well as the “rarefied” arenas where global health discussions take place.
There are many different solutions to this complex issue, but in my opinion, these are the two most urgent ones. They will of course not solve the problem of the lack of nurses’ participation in policy-making for health, but it is a good start.
* Nurse and Public Health Masters student at the Medical University and University of Vienna. She is currently interning as a research assistant at the International Health Policy unit of the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, working on a literature review project on health systems strengthening. Clara is particularly interested in global health and development policy