“Learn the lessons and invest in nursing!” ICN speaks out at WHO high-level meetings

6 November 2023
WS 47

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has published a report detailing its significant interventions at the 76th World Health Assembly in May this year. The report sets the direction for ICN’s important policy work, particularly its work on Universal Health Coverage, the nursing workforce and mental health, which continued during the recent World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional committee meetings, bringing the nursing voice to the world’s highest levels of decision-making.

ICN Chief Executive Officer, Howard Catton, said:

“ICN’s interventions at the World Health Assembly and the WHO Regional Committee meetings called attention to the need for investment in the nursing workforce in order to deliver Universal Health Coverage (UHC), primary health care (PHC) and address the growing challenge of mental health. The big lesson governments should have learned from the pandemic was that our health systems were simply not well enough prepared, specifically there has not been enough investment in our nurses.

‘We are at risk of doing the same again now as we look to UHC, PHC, and the Sustainable Development Goals. It seems that governments have not learned the lessons, and if we don’t see investment in nursing as part of strengthening our health systems for the future, we will fail to achieve the ambitions for improved global health. That is the message that we took into all our interventions at the WHA and the regional committee meetings: learn the lessons and invest because nursing is the answer!”

The ICN delegation to the WHA took a hybrid format this year with six delegates attending in person and almost 80 attending virtually online. Delegates were from 45 countries around the world and included ICN National Nursing Association (NNA) member representatives, representatives from ICN affiliate members, the ICN Board of Directors, the Global Nursing Leadership Institute (GNLI) scholars and alumni, ICN staff and consultants, the ICN Nursing Student Steering Group and other student and early career nurses.

The delegation intervened in a number of agenda items, including:

ICN’s policy work continued at the WHO Regional Committee meetings in September and October.

The 75th Session of the Pan American Health Organization was held 25-29 September in Washington, D.C., USA, where ICN made a statement on the Health Workforce 2030: Strengthening Human Resources for Health to Achieve Resilient Health Systems, calling on Member States to establish robust regulatory mechanisms to ensure the competence and professional development of nurses; invest in nursing education to guarantee a sustainable pipeline of skilled healthcare provider; and instate a Government Chief Nursing Officer with a budget to invest in nursing. ICN delegates to the PAHO meeting also intervened on Policy on Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases in Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults, calling for investment in nursing solutions to alleviate the strain on health care systems and improve the health and well-being of individuals across the globe.

The Strategy for Improving Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in the Region of the Americas was also an important topic for ICN at the PAHO meeting. ICN highlighted the mental health impact of the pandemic on nurses and called for strong investment in educating mental health nurses to prioritize population mental health needs.

Mental health was also on the agenda at the 70th Session of the Regional Committee of WHO for Eastern Mediterranean in Cairo, Egypt, 9-12 October. ICN intervened on the topic of Scaling up mental health care: a framework for action, commending WHO's ongoing commitment to scaling up mental health care in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, and raising a significant concern regarding the alarming shortage of mental health nurses in the region which has profound implications for Universal Health Coverage. ICN also delivered an intervention on the Health Workforce in the Eastern Mediterranean Region: From COVID-19 lessons to action, urging all stakeholders present to acknowledge the undeniable value of the nursing workforce and to pledge their commitment to the transformative actions needed to ensure the health and well-being of populations globally.

From 16-20 October, the 74th Session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, was held in Manila, Philippines. ICN intervened on Item 14: Health Workforce, commending and endorsing the draft Regional Framework to Shape a Health Workforce for the Future of the Western Pacific and reiterating the increasing evidence of the debilitating challenges confronting the nursing workforce.

The 73rd Session of the Regional Committee of WHO for the European region was held in Astana, Kazakhstan, 24–26 October. ICN, the European Forum of National Nurses and Midwives Associations (EFNNMA) and the European Nursing Students Association (ENSA) delivered a joint statement supporting the Framework for Action on the health and care workforce in the WHO European Region 2023–2030 calling on Member States to develop robust regulatory mechanisms to ensure the competence and professional development of nurses and midwives based on the EU directive the mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

ICN also took part in the 76th Session of the Regional Committee for South East Asia, 30 October – 2 November, intervening on Item 8.3. Annual report on monitoring progress on UHC and health-related SDGs, and re-emphasizing the need to invest in nursing, drawing insight from the ICN 2023 Charter for Change and the 2023 Recover to Rebuild report, and urging all stakeholders to acknowledge the undeniable value of the nursing workforce and to pledge their commitment to the transformative actions needed to ensure the health and well-being of populations globally.

On 30 October, ICN hosted a webinar focusing on the central role of nurses in primary health care in achieving the goal of Universal Health Coverage by 2030. With more than 300 nurses from over 100 countries in attendance, the webinar called for investment in primary health care and the need for an effective, sufficiently skilled and properly funded health care workforce. Read more on this webinar here.

ICN’s involvement and collaboration with WHO, including WHO Executive Board meetings, World Health Assemblies, WHO Regional Committees and other WHO meetings, can be found on ICN’s website here.