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12 May 2020
International Nurses Day and Year of the Nurse and Midwife amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

(Published - 12 May 2020)

Who would have predicted that the 2020 celebration of nurses and midwives around the world would centre around their dedication to fighting the crisis brought about by the rapid global spread of and rising deaths due to the COVID-19 virus, rather than it being a celebration of the longstanding history of nurses being the spine of the healthcare system?

Historically, International Nurses Day was founded to celebrate the birthday of Florence Nightingale, a phenomenal woman who cared for fellow humans with dedication and compassion. A closer look at her work evinces the rudiments of our understanding of epidemiology, which in the current context is core to the scientific understanding of the incidence, determinants, distribution, surveillance, screening and control of COVID-19. The theme for 2020, Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Nursing the World to Health, demonstrates how nurses are central to addressing a wide range of health challenges. It will encourage nurses and the public to celebrate the big day, but also provide information and resources that will help to raise the profile of the profession throughout the year and attract a new generation into the nursing family.

All over the world the celebration of the nurse and midwife has taken on a new focus, as nurses step in and step up to fight this pandemic which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. Even in under-resourced healthcare systems, struggling to service the day-to-day health needs of a population, the virulence of COVID-19 has not deterred nurses, including retired nurses enjoying their well-earned retirement and student nurses volunteering to assist, from being deployed as front-line workers. The question we need to answer, if not now, then before the next healthcare crisis, is: Why the need to recall nurses from retirement or consider students to support the nursing workforce? We are faced with a red signpost that shouts: “Now, more than ever, the world needs nurses – urgently rethink the reality of the critical nurse shortage”.

Image: Nursing students attending to patients in Klipheuwel (2019).

In celebration of 2020 International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, and the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) calls on all governments to invest in nurses and midwives as a means to universal health coverage and improved healthcare around the world. “In the Year of the Nurse, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for nurses and the recognition of the key role that nurses play in the front-line of this crisis. It is important during this time to remember why you want to be a nurse. As always, remain positive, be flexible, keep up to date with the pandemic and work hard and stay abreast of developments,“ said Prof Jennifer Chipps, Director for the School of Nursing within the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences.

In the wake of much-needed health reform and amidst the high risk associated with nurse shortages, our nurses also urgently need protection. Like their patients, nurses are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who are sacrificing their lives to save others. Protect them – give them what they need to continue to do what they do – give every nurse the proper PPE.

We have learnt how dedication has claimed the lives of nurses worldwide. Very close to home, we have not been spared, and we have lost two nurses due to COVID-19. Under “normal” circumstances, the lives of these nurses would have been celebrated by fellow nurses in large numbers, but this is suppressed due to national lockdown. We celebrate them on International Nurses Day, 12 May, for their resilience and sacrifice to their end, to the nursing profession – where the idea of nursing being “a calling” is proven as no longer being a metaphor, but rather the very narrative of our nurses’ lives.

For more information, contact Mr Alex Plaatjies:
Tel: 021 959 3683
Mobile: 071932 0659