The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) sends best wishes to all its members, and indeed nurses all over the world, on International Nurses Day which is celebrated on May 12, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth. The theme chosen by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) for this year is ‘Nurses: A Voice to Lead, Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS).’ The International Council of Nurses (ICN), of which the INMO has been a member since 1925, is a federation of more than 130 national nursing associations representing more than 16 million nurses worldwide.
On the occasion of this year’s International Nurses Day the ICN highlights and celebrates the many ways in which the tremendous work, nurses carry out every day, forms the basis for achieving the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Adopted in 2015 by the United Nations, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) encompass a broad range of sustainable development issues for the world, such as ending poverty, hunger, improving health and education, combating climate change and many others. Although there have been vast improvements in health outcomes globally, health inequities remain a significant challenge. The health inequities result from the social determinants of health which are the conditions and the set of forces and systems shaping life and health throughout life’s journey. The 191 UN Member States have agreed to achieve these new goals by 2030.
There are gross differences in health and well-being between countries. In Swaziland, for example, the life expectancy is over 30 years shorter than Japan. In Angola approximately 1 in 6 children will die before the age of 5 whilst in the USA it is 3.6 per 1,000 children. These differences also exist within countries. The lower the socioeconomic position the higher the risk of poor health and increased likelihood of premature death.
The root causes of these differences cannot be explained by genetics or biological reasons and in many cases even access to health services. The growing body of evidence demonstrates that the real causes of these differences are the differences and inequalities in social and economic factors. When a person is lower in the socioeconomic position, generally the worse the health. There is a social gradient in health that runs from top to bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum.
This year, ICN has chosen the theme: ‘Nurses: A Voice to Lead, Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’ aiming to raise awareness: firstly amongst the nursing profession of what the SDGs are and why they matter; and, secondly, amongst the population, governments and other decision-makers, of the contributions nurses are already making to achieve the SDGs. Nurses around the world are doing amazing work to improve access to health care, to educate populations, to address poverty, nutrition, clean energy, inequality, sustainability, innovation, justice and every other goal in the SDGs.
At the heart of the patient-centred approach of the profession, the social determinants of health have always been taken into account by nurses when caring for individuals. No matter where in the world and with what means, nurses strive to deliver the best and most adapted care to their communities by identifying specific needs and thinking outside the box, overcoming societal, material and logistical difficulties. These actions are still too often overlooked as “nurses just doing their job”, but what many – including nurses themselves – fail to recognise, is the invaluable contribution to sustainable development and sustainable health their initiatives, commitment and expertise represent for the common good of the planet.
“It is time that the nurse’s voice is heard. Everyone in their lifetime has been, or will be, cared for by a nurse and that is precisely why individuals, communities and policy makers should all pay attention,” says Dr Judith Shamian, ICN President. “Investing in the nursing profession is essential for economic growth and the achievement of universal health care.”
“Nursing is the profession that is at the intersection of all SDGs, we are the only health care workers that have access to the whole picture when treating a patient and this unique position, coupled with a demanding training curriculum, makes us the voice to lead,” says Dr Frances Hughes, ICN’s Chief Executive Officer.
INMO President, Martina Harkin-Kelly, in saluting nurses at home and abroad, said:
“The theme for International Nurses Day underpins the simple, but vital, message that nurses play a central role in the provision of healthcare and have a pivotal remit in improving health system’s resilience. For this to happen, Governments must understand that a high quality health service cannot be achieved without an adequate number of appropriately educated, empowered and autonomous nurses. The nurse is, without doubt, the health professional closest to the population they serve and therefore must be centrally involved in making decisions for strengthening health services.”
Ms Harkin-Kelly continued:
“At our Annual Delegate Conference last week members clearly mapped out the INMO’s strategy to resolve the current staffing crisis. The crisis cannot be solved without dealing, once and for all, with the issue of pay. The government has a chance to do this in the coming weeks. The INMO will not wait any longer and our approach to any new pay deal will be determined by progress on this critical issue. Members were united in pursuit of the goal of fair, proper and appropriate pay for every nurse in this country. This must reflect their role, their responsibility and the realities of the international labour market so that we can attract, retain and properly reward all nurses and midwives in this country.”