Global Shortfall of 5.9 Million Nurses as World Battles Coronavirus Pandemic

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Health workers wear protective masks as they observe a minute's silence at the entrance of the Hospital Doctor Peset in remembrance of nursing staff who have died due to coronavirus (COVID-19) on April 06, 2020 in Valencia, Spain. Rober Solsona | Europa Press News | Getty Images

The World Health Organization is urging countries to create at least 6 million new nursing jobs by 2030 to offset a projected “global shortfall” as health-care workers across the world respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to WHO, Nursing is the largest occupational group in the health-care sector, accounting for roughly 59% of health professions.

“There are just under 28 million nurses worldwide, about 5.9 million short of what the world needs to adequately care for the growing population”, reads a new report jointly published from WHO, the International Council of Nurses and Nursing Now.

The report which looked at 191 countries using data between 2013 and 2018, highlights that the greatest deficit of nurses is in low-to low-middle income countries. There is no surprise that Samoa falls into this category.

More than 80% of the world’s nurses work in countries that account for half of the world’s population, according to the report’s findings.

“Nurses are the backbone of the health system,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

“Today, many nurses find themselves on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19. This report is a stark reminder of the unique role they play, and a wakeup call to ensure they get the support they need to keep the world healthy.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general. SALVATORE DI NOLFI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstoc

The coronavirus has spread to almost every country in the world since its emergence in Wuhan 3 months ago. It has infectied more than 1.4 million people worldwide killing at least 85,000 as of Thursday morning, according to latest reports. 

The United States has become the new epicentre  with now more than 370,000 active cases after recoveries and 13,000 deaths. Over 122,000 of those active cases are in New York.

Earlier this week, dozens of nurses and other health-care workers protested outside a New York hospital for better protective gear as doctors, nurses and other health-care workers scramble to take care of the sick with US hospitals reaching capacity and essential medical supplies run short.

On Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a “national enlistment of medical personnel” in the city as local officials prepare for a crush of coronavirus patients expected over the next few weeks.

WHO recommended that countries experiencing nursing shortages should increase the number of nurse graduates by about 8% each year and improve the availability of jobs.

“Politicians understand the cost of educating and maintaining a professional nursing workforce, but only now are many of them recognizing their true value,” ICN President Annette Kennedy said in a statement. “Every penny invested in nursing raises the well being of people and families in tangible ways that are clear for everyone to see.”

WHO also recommended that world leaders educate nurses in the scientific, technological and sociological skills they need to drive progress in health care as well as improving working conditions.

WHO officials said leaders should also strengthen the role of nurses in care teams, noting about 90% of nurses are female, but few nurses or women hold leadership positions.