World Health Day, 7 April 2020

Message of WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti

This year, on World Health Day, as front-line health workers lead the charge against the COVID-19 pandemic, at WHO we want to appreciate the life-saving roles of nurses and midwives. This is a year-long celebration, as part of the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

Nurses are at the core of the primary health care approach, which is a cornerstone for attaining universal health coverage. They make up at least half of the global health workforce. Midwives and nurses are critical links between individuals, families, communities and the health system. They provide support along the continuum of care, from promotion, to prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation to end-of-life care.  

In the COVID-19 response, nurses are working non-stop to provide quality care, share health information, implement infection prevention and control, serve in intensive care units, and ensure routine services continue to be delivered. Midwives are continuing to support mothers to safely deliver their babies.

We must do more to recognize the contributions of nurses and midwives in empowering patients and communities, facilitating multidisciplinary teamwork, and providing holistic care.

Survey responses from 39 countries in the African Region, show a slight increase in the number of nurses and midwives from 1.02 per 1000 people in 2005 to 1.06 in 2018. This is still far below the number needed to achieve universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. In low- and lower-middle-income countries globally, the number of nurses is not keeping pace with population growth.

To improve this situation there are key actions we can collectively take:

To better understand the challenges and develop evidence-based policies, health workforce data collection, analysis and use needs to improve.

Education and training should be quality assured and relevant to evolving disease burdens in countries. So far, around 30 countries in the African Region have an accreditation body for training institutions.

More investment is needed in retention and career development, and to ensure decent work conditions.

Nurse mobility and migration must be effectively and ethically managed. Presently, over 80% of the world’s nurses are in countries that account for half the global population.

Regulation must ensure nurses and other health workers are accountable for the health of populations.

Finally, nursing leadership and governance is critical to nursing workforce strengthening, including through collaboration between chief nurses and relevant ministries (such as education, immigration, finance, labour) and the private sector to address the needs of nurses and midwives.

In taking forward these actions, I’m pleased to join the WHO Director-General and my WHO fellow regional directors in launching the first ever State of the World’s Nursing Report 2020. This report details the significant contribution that nurses make to promoting health, keeping the world safe and serving the vulnerable. This report is an excellent tool to shape policies and strategies based on evidence.

Even more so as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and every day, I ask that we appreciate the valuable service of nurses and midwives in improving health and well-being and saving lives.

Learn more:

State of the World’s Nursing Report 2020