PAHO Calls on Countries to Collectively Strengthen the Nursing Workforce

6 May 2022
Enfermera en centro de salud

Washington DC, 6 May 2022 (PAHO) – In celebration of International Nurses Day, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) urged countries to collectively strengthen the nursing workforce through sustainable investment in education, jobs, leadership, professional regulation, and working conditions.

"There needs to be a strategic planning process in each country that, in order to succeed, must consider the needs of health personnel––especially in nursing, which is reaching a crisis point," said Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO’s Assistant Director, during the opening of the event. 

There are approximately nine million nursing professionals in the Region of the Americas, 87% of whom are women, and the nursing workforce represents over 56% of the Region's human resources for health. 

"Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have lost a large number of nurses. In Brazil, for example, as of April 2021, over 54 000 nurses had been infected and 773 had died, constituting one-third of all deaths among health workers," Barbosa said. 

Challenges include poor distribution of professional staff within and between countries, continuous and increasing migration, unsafe and unappealing working conditions, uncompetitive wages, and lack of regulation of the profession. This prevents the full capacity of nursing professionals from being used to improve health outcomes in the population. 

Barbosa called for advocacy of investments in high-quality nursing education and a focus on intersectoral action involving academia, health services, and the needs of the population. "It is necessary to improve working conditions, worker protection, opportunities for professional growth, and wages," he said. 

James Fitzgerald, PAHO’s Director of Health Systems and Services, paid tribute to the performance of health workers and particularly nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying “they continue to play a leading role in the management of the pandemic, and in efforts to vaccinate the population." 

The Minister of Health of Uruguay, Daniel Salinas, presented Uruguay's initiatives to strengthen nursing. He stressed the role of nurses in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. "Their role, both in terms of their health functions and their social functions, has a very high profile," he said. 

He also mentioned proposals for investment in nursing in Uruguay, addressing the professionalization of nursing assistants, creation of positions requiring a high level of dedication, and draft regulations to govern nursing staff in the different health services. 

"Investing in nursing is very important for a quick recovery of health status once the pandemic passes, for regaining and maintaining public health achievements, and for resuming the path towards universal health," he said. 

Also presenting at the event was Nancy R. Reynolds, Professor and Associate Dean of Global Affairs at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center in the United States on the subject of Nursing Knowledge, Information Management and Sharing), who gave a presentation on the strategic importance of investing in nursing professionals in the Region of the Americas.

Three countries shared their experiences with investment in nursing. Gail Tomblin, Vice President for Research, Innovation and Discovery, and Chief Nurse Executive of the Nova Scotia Health Authority (Canada), presented "Investing in Canada’s Post-Pandemic Nursing Workforce"; Sonia Acioli, President of the Brazilian Nursing Association (ABEn), presented on "A Nursing Minimum Wage"; and Patricia Ingram Martin, Chief Nursing Officer, Ministry of Health and Wellness of Jamaica, spoke on "Development of the National Strategic Directions for Nursing and Midwifery."

The theme of the event was investing to accelerate recovery after the pandemic, and to maintain public health achievements, and resume progress toward universal health. Over 1,600 people from 45 countries participated, including staff of ministries of health and education, as well as representatives of universities, PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centers, nursing associations, government nurses, students, and other stakeholders.

To provide evidence and contribute to the advancement of nursing in the Region, PAHO launched a number of documents: a policy overview of the strategic importance of national investment in nursing professionals in the Region of the Americas; an infographic on investing in nursing personnel in the Region of the Americas; and an article on interprofessional health education in the Region of the Americas from a nursing perspective.