COVID-19 drives home the importance of nursing in ensuring community well-being
Wednesday, 01 April, 2020
By Dr Suzanne Robertson-Malt, Associate Professor and Programme Director for Health programmes (Nursing and Allied Health) at University of Wollongong in Dubai
Nurses are at the heart of most healthcare systems, and are crucial to health promotion, disease prevention, and treatment. As the healthcare professionals that are closest to the community, they have a vital role to play in developing new models of community-based care and supporting local efforts to prevent disease and promote health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers nurses and midwives as the cornerstone in helping countries meet their commitments to Universal health coverage. In light of the current world scenario with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there has never been a better time to acknowledge the role of nurses as the first line of defense.
While doctors get much of the appreciation and gratitude, nurses and midwives make up more than 50 per cent of the health workforce in several countries. Of the 43.5 million healthcare workers in the world today, it is estimated that 20.7 million are nurses and midwives. WHO estimates that there will be a worldwide deficit of nine million nurses and midwives by 2030 unless radical action is taken to reverse the situation. Well ahead of this pandemic, WHO had designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, to recognize the contributions they make, and highlight the public health risks associated with a shortfall in the number of nurses.
Nurses, armed with clinical supplies, are often the front line of care and, in some cases, may be the only healthcare providers in the area, especially in developing countries. They make a difference not just in individual patients’ lives but also in the community as a whole. Due to their sheer numbers and the locations where they often work, nurses are key players in improving public health outcomes around the world.
Given the importance of nurses to a nation’s healthcare services, this is a rewarding and fulfilling career that offers young Emiratis a guaranteed income and sustainability. In the UAE, public health officials have urged more Emiratis to consider full-time careers in nursing. In 2019, the Ministry of Health & Prevention revealed that only 8 per cent of nursing staff at public hospitals in the country are from the UAE. Government initiatives are therefore in place to incentivise more young people to consider nursing their number one career choice.
The establishment of the UAE Nursing and Midwifery Council (UAE NMC) in 2009, reflects the government’s commitment to strengthening the status of nursing and midwifery and acknowledges that high quality nursing services are critical in maintaining the health and well-being of the people of the UAE. Its main purpose is to define strategic directions for nursing and midwifery research and to provide a structure and support mechanisms for the continued expansion and advancement of this field in the UAE.
Enabling the nursing community can triple the positive impact - ensuring better health, a stronger economy, and greater gender equality. While the first outcome is obvious, the others are equally important. While men can and do become nurses, women continue to make up the vast majority of nurses worldwide.
Becoming a nurse opens a world of possibilities for women, giving them the chance to receive a formal education, enroll in training programmes, obtain a license, and finally, secure a job and its accompanying income, thereby improving overall economic growth and gender equality in the workforce.
There is a proven track record of the greater economic impact of an increased number of women in the workforce. The International Council of Nurses (ICN) urges ministries of health and academic institutions across the globe to equip nurses with the skill and confidence required to be active players in shaping the healthcare landscape – to have their voices heard at both the organisational and national policy levels.
With four universities in the UAE currently offering programmes in nursing to interested students, the onus is now on enthusiastic young individuals to adapt their priorities to align with the demands of the country’s labour market in selecting careers that can truly make a difference – to themselves and the human race at large..