With the fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic, the world started giving greater attention to health professionals who work at the frontline of the response. The crisis arrives at a time where more qualified health professionals are desperately needed: according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 9 million more nurses and midwives are needed globally if we want to achieve universal health coverage by 2030. It is to highlight that need, that WHO designated 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.
There are countless heroic stories of nurses and midwives risking their lives, away from their loved ones for weeks and even months to provide care to COVID-19 patients. They often pay a heavy toll: so far, 600 nurses have lost their lives to COVID-19.
The fight against the disease also takes place in the Pacific region. In the 6 countries that reported confirmed cases of COVID-19, nurses and midwives – who represent about 75% of the health workforce – are currently working as the first responders to the crisis, hopefully without any casualty.
Luisa Vukicanasau is a nurse based at the Lautoka Hospital in Fiji and has been in the nursing profession for the past 10 years. She is one of the nurses that cared for COVID-19 patients for 20 days.
“In the beginning we were worried given how serious the situation was in other countries. Once we started looking after patients and doing our routine hand washing and wearing personal protective equipment, we became more confident. One thing I learned is that talking to each other and encouraging each other really helped”.
COVID-19 regional response work
The regional COVID-19 response is managed through the WHO-led Pacific COVID-19 Joint Incident Management Team (JIMT), which is comprised of several key partners such as the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), the Pacific Islands Health Officer’s Association (PIHOA) and the Pacific Community (SPC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),. The purpose of the JIMT is to ensure partners coordinate their activities to best leverage their respective resources and capacities to help ensure the Pacific countries receive the guidance and supplies needed to strengthen their health emergency preparedness.
SPC is among others leading the work of the JIMT clinical services and nursing. It works within the group and includes providing technical guidelines and trainings to countries via webinars.
Mabel Taoi, Project Coordinator for Clinical Services Program of SPC’s Public Health Division (PHD) said “We received requests from countries for critical care nurse training. There are 110 nurses from 16 Pacific Island Countries (PICs) enrolled in this online training program that was designed to quickly and efficiently build the capacity of nurses to care for the very sick COVID-19 patients. We are grateful to Ms Alison McMillian, Australia’s Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer for facilitating the inclusion of Pacific nurses into this program”.
The enrolment of Pacific Nurses into this training is made possible through SPC, supported by DFAT funding. There are also zoom session for nurses across the Pacific that is held every two weeks, facilitated by SPC in partnership with the Australian College of Operating Room Nurses (ACORN) and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACs).
Frances Akaruru, who is a nurse, based in Cook Islands said, “The session was a good refresher, I liked the demonstration. Power point slides are informative and congruent with what we have here in the Cook Islands”.
Regional nursing platform
SPC has also established a new platform for nurses and midwives, through the annual “regional Pacific Heads of Nursing and Midwifery meeting”, providing an opportunity to discuss nursing issues of strategic importance, identify priority areas for nursing activities related to the Healthy Islands Vision, share opportunities for nursing and provide advice to the Pacific Heads of Health. The inaugural meeting was held in February this year.
Dr. Paula Vivili, Director of PHD said “Nurses are the first point of contact in health facilities within our communities and are the backbone of the operational medical & health workforce. All the team here at SPC would like to thank the nurses for their dedication and commitment to their profession and encourage them to reach out and support each other during these uncertain times”.
The International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife is a great opportunity for countries to look at how they can make a difference by increasing their investments in nursing education, jobs and leadership trainings. COVID-19 has shown all of us the critical role front line medical workers including particularly nurses have to play in our care. Improving the condition of the nursing workforce will help the world be better equipped to fight COVID-19 and prepared for potential future crises; but also achieve health for all by 2030.