World Health Day celebrates nurses and midwives

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Midwife Chipago Nilimo checks her patient’s fetal heart rate at the Chongwe District Hopsital, Zambia, May 2018. The clinic now has a reliable, life saving power source from solar panels provided by UNDP and NOREPS. Photo: UNDP/Karin Schermbrucker for Slingshot

April 7 marks World Health Day, and because of coronavirus COVID-19 this one is unlike no other in living memory.

For months, health is all many have been thinking about as the deadly virus has marched with around the globe.

COVID-19 respects no national borders, no skin colour, no religion, no station in life. For the first time in several generations, developed and developing countries face the same enemy, at the same time.

Frontline workers are putting themselves in harm’s way as they do their utmost to save lives.

This Health Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) is celebrating the work of nurses and midwives, whose work, in the face of a global pandemic, is more critical than ever.

There are more than 200 million health workers worldwide, and it’s one of the biggest and fastest growing employers of women — about 70 percent, yet half of the women’s contribution to global health is unpaid.

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Above, Dilma Montero Guallani, 59, is a volunteer in the remote community of Pekín, in the Bolivian Amazon, where she provides early malaria diagnosis and treatment. Bottom, Heiddy Chinari Peñaloza, 26, has brought her son, Esthit Fernandez Chinari, 1, to have a malaria test, April 2018.

WHO and its partners will make a series of recommendations to strengthen the nursing and midwifery workforce and UNDP joins WHO to ensure that the healthcare workforce is strong enough to ensure that everyone, everywhere, gets healthcare.

This will be vital if we are to achieve global targets related to universal health coverage, particularly Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 — good health and wellbeing. At least half of the world’s population still does not have full basic health services and this inequality is dangerous for all. As the pandemic has proven with startling clarity, we are only as strong as the weakest link in our healthcare networks.

As the UN’s leading development agency, UNDP works with its partners to design resilient and sustainable health systems. We look below the surface to address the social, structural, economic and environmental determinants of health inequalities. This role will become ever more important as the coronavirus spreads to developing countries.

The pandemic is going to widen existing inequalities and severely hamper the gains in development that have been achieved in recent decades.

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At the Chongwe District Hospital in Zamiba, May 2018, midwives and nurses are able to work more efficiently with life saving electricity provide by solar panels installed by UNDP and funded by NOREPS. Top: Midwife Hora Chipo delivers a healthy baby girl. Bottom: Scrub nurse Philimon Zulu prepares the theatre for their next operation. Photos: UNDP/Karin Schermbrucker for Slingshot

WHO data shows that almost 40 percent of all countries have fewer than 10 medical doctors per 10,000 people.

Even basic hand washing techniques will be unavailable to many people — the UN estimates that more than half of the schools in sub-Saharan Africa do not have drinking water or hand washing facilities. Worldwide, two out of five people do not have basic hand washing in their homes.

UNDP offers innovative SDGs-based solutions, which enable partners to respond to the needs of communities. We focus on leaving no one behind by addressing healthcare needs for the world’s most vulnerable, particularly women, those living with HIV, sex workers, LGBTI people, persons with disabilities, people affected by climate change, and those living in crisis.

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At an HIV treatment and prevention center in Kunduz, Afghanistan a health worker takes preventative measures for transmission of COVID 19, ensuring services for HIV clients are not interrupted, March 2020. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan/YHDO

But the coronavirus is not just a health crisis, it’s a development crisis.

This World Health Day, as global health systems grapple with the pandemic, UNDP is supporting countries and their health workforces to prevent the spread of the disease, prepare the response, and recover from COVID-19.

This is not easy work. Coronavirus is an accelerated version of climate change. And just like climate change, there is no doubt that it’s going to change our way of life, no matter where we live in the world, for years to come, and quite possibly forever. And just like climate change, it is going to affect the vulnerable the most.

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This World Health Day, as global health systems grapple with the pandemic, UNDP is supporting countries and their health workforces to strengthen health systems, prevent the spread of the disease, prepare the response, and recover from COVID-19. Photo: WHO Moldova/Dinu Bubulici

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