2022 International Nurses Day and Second COVID-19 Global Summit

PSI joins its nursing affiliates across the world to commemorate the 2022 International Nurses Day (IND). This year’s IND comes up as G20 countries gather virtually for the Second Global COVID-19 Summit, amid a global tidal wave of strikes and protests of nurses and other health workers. 

In Turkey, Sri Lanka, Australia, Slovenia and Finland, nurses and other health workers have demanded appropriate recognition of the role they play as the backbone of health systems. This requires improved wages and working conditions and adequate staffing for safe and effective healthcare delivery. 

World leaders need to go beyond empty words and applause for nurses. They need to “mobilize the funding and political will required to achieve global targets for COVID-19 response” and realization for the right to health. This requires prioritizing of investment in the training and employment of nurses and the broader health workforce, on a basis of the decent work agenda. 

It might appear that we are putting the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, but in Africa just 15% of the population has been vaccinated

It might appear that we are putting the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, in some parts of the world. This is because, in those countries–which are the wealthier nations -, vaccination coverage has soared to upwards of 90 percent plus; testing rates and access to therapeutics, including oral antivirals, are near universal; and personal protective equipment is available to nurses and other health workers.

But in Africa, for example, just 15% of the population has been vaccinated. And this includes just one out of every four health workers. The reason for this worrisome situation is that wealthy countries have backed biopharmaceutical corporations making sickening extents of super-profits, using the weapon of intellectual property rights. And this is although those governments supported these corporations with over a hundred billion dollars to develop the vaccines.

As the emergence of variants of concern such as Omicron shows, no one is safe until we are all safe. And for everybody to be safe, we need a minimum of 70% vaccine coverage across every country in the world. 

There was a shortage of just under 6 million nurses, on the eve of the pandemic. Now, the number might have more than doubled, to 13 million

The global “vaccine apartheid” is analogous to the global inequalities we see when we look at access to healthcare and healthcare workers. There is a global health and social workforce shortage even before the pandemic. It was projected that this would reach 18 million by 2030, which is now barely seven years away. 

Specifically, with the nursing profession, there was a shortage of just under 6 million nurses, on the eve of the pandemic, as captured in the World Health Organization’s State of the World’s Nursing 2020 report issued on World Health Day 2020. 

Last year, the International Council of Nurses argued that the number might have more than doubled during the pandemic, to 13 million. The reason for this projection is quite clear. Millions of experienced nurses have had to leave the profession, due to lack of adequate occupational safety and health measures, poor wages –including wage ceilings, and burnout. Meanwhile, younger people who see what nurses and other health workers are going through, despite their central roles in the pandemic response, now find the profession less attractive to younger people.

In the 2020 State of the World’s Nursing report, the WHO also showed that 80 percent of the shortage of 6 million nurses worldwide was in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Meanwhile, thousands of nurses migrate from these countries to the wealthier countries because of poor wages and working conditions. 

Tax havens

The fiscal policy space of governments in LMICs to invest adequately in education, jobs and leadership of nurses is constricted by conditionalities of international financial institutions, illicit financial flows, and tax avoidance.

The State of Tax Justice 2020 report, for example, shows that one nurse’s salary is lost to tax havens every second. To put it in another way, $427 billion in tax is lost to international corporate tax abuse and evasion every year. This amount would cover the annual salaries of 34 million nurses. Meanwhile, the global nursing and midwifery workforce comprises 27 million women and men!

So, it is not because of lack of resources that nurses are overworked because health systems are understaffed or underpaid and not provided with adequate protection at the workplace. The problem is systemic; the wealth (and tax theft) of a handful of persons and their corporations have been made to matter much more than the lives of nurses and all of us, the 99%.

An important lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic, which is not yet over, is that we need to reorganize society along the lines of priorities and perspectives that clearly and unambiguously put the people and planet before profit.  

PSI will continue to urge world leaders to draw this correct lesson. PSI nursing affiliates are also showing their realization of an important lesson with their ongoing wave of mass strikes. This is that, even though the good sense is clear in the need for improved public funding of nursing and decent work for nurses, we will not win it without struggle. 

PSI stands for and will continue to promote the collective might of nurses in their struggles across the world. Viva nurses of the world!