“Applause without action is no longer acceptable.”
– HRH Princess Muna al-Hussein of Jordan
When the World Health Organization (WHO) designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, nobody could have predicted the result. Nurses all over the world have stepped up to meet the COVID-19 crisis and save lives. Their selfless work has focused attention well beyond the core purpose of the original celebrations. It has shown – as nothing else could – nurses’ power and potential to address major health challenges.
Naturally, the world is thankful. It’s heartening to see the many ways in which people have poured out their gratitude. But as HRH Princess Muna al-Hussein of Jordan makes clear, gratitude is no longer enough. We must move beyond applause and hero worship and take immediate action to safeguard the future of nurses and other health care workers around the world.
The renowned global health advocate delivered her remarks as part of the WHO’s 73rd World Health Assembly in November. She received the WHO Director-General’s Health Leaders Award for outstanding leadership in global health in recognition of her long-standing dedication, service and support to nurses and midwives.
In her speech, she called on countries to invest in the health care workforce, through education and employment, fair pay and protection, and gender equity initiatives. As she noted, COVID-19 is not the only challenge health workers face. “Preventable diseases do not stop killing young children; mothers do not stop having babies; cancer continues to require treatment; and our elders still require health and care services.”
Throughout her 60-year career, HRH Princess Muna has been a passionate activist for health workforce development and strengthening. It has been my privilege to work closely with her over the years – in Amman, at the Jordanian Nursing Council to implement the International Council of Nurses’ Leadership for Change Program, and later at WHO headquarters and the Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office to develop the Strategic Directions for Nursing and Midwifery at the global and regional level. At the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) 2014 National Magnet Conference®, I was honored to receive the award that bears her name. The HRH Princess Muna al-Hussein Award is given in recognition of significant contributions to health care across borders and a dedication to nursing. Coincidentally, HRH Princess Muna was recognized at the same Magnet conference, receiving the ANCC President’s Award for exceptional leadership.
HRH Princess Muna and I strongly agree: the volatile global health landscape requires an informed and strategically positioned nursing and midwifery workforce at every level in health system infrastructures worldwide. This theme was echoed throughout the World Health Assembly, as WHO Director General Tedros Adbanom Ghebreyesus called for efforts to strengthen nursing leadership to “ensure that nurses have an influential role in health policy and decision-making and contribute to the effectiveness of health and social care systems.”
Dr. Ghebreyesus also used the assembly platform to promote a new era of cooperation, unity and healing – not only from the COVID-19 pandemic, but also from the political divisions that threaten the world’s health and well-being. “Today and every day, we must choose health,” he said. “We’re one big family.”
Here in the United States, President-Elect Biden has taken this message to heart. Shortly after the election results were confirmed, his transition team confirmed he will immediately reverse President Trump’s decision to leave the WHO. “We are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health,” Biden said. “On my first day as President, I will rejoin the WHO and restore our leadership to the world stage.”
In recognition of the dedication and sacrifice of millions of workers at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO designated 2021 as “The Year of Health and Care Workers”
The designation speaks to the critical role these individuals play throughout the world, as well as the urgent need to address health worker challenges.
The moment to act is now. The world needs a robust and well-supported health care workforce. In the wake of COVID-19 and other global challenges, the opportunity is upon us to advocate with key stakeholders and leaders who have the power to make it happen.