The World Health Assembly, convened by World Health Organisation (WHO) has applauded nurses and midwives in their fight against coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, describing them as true health heroes.
Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, said this at the ongoing two-day World Health Assembly in Geneva.
This is the first time when the assembly, WHO’s main governing body, will convene virtually.
Ghebreyesus, in a speech, said nurses and midwives have been on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19, putting themselves in harm’s way.
“Many have made the ultimate sacrifice in service of humanity.
“Last month, WHO published the first State of the World’s Nursing report. It shows that the world is facing a shortfall of six million nurses to achieve and sustain universal health coverage.
“But it also provides a roadmap for governments to invest in nursing, to fill that gap and progress toward universal health coverage; Health for all.
“Now more than ever, the world needs nurses and midwives. Please join me, wherever you are, in standing to show your appreciation for these true health heroes,” he said.
According to him, 2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.
“This Assembly was intended to be a moment of recognition for the incredible contribution that nurses and midwives make every day, in every country.
“The pandemic has robbed us of that opportunity. But it has only served to illustrate why nurses, midwives and all health workers are so important,” said Ghebreyesus.
The director-general said, “We have come together as the nations of the world to confront the defining health crisis of our time.
“We come in grief for those we have lost; we come with concern for those still fighting for their lives; we come with determination to triumph over this common threat.
“And we come with hope for the future. The world has confronted several pandemics before. This is the first caused by a coronavirus.
“This is a dangerous enemy, with a dangerous combination of features: this virus is efficient, fast, and fatal.
“It can operate in the dark, spread silently if we’re not paying attention, then suddenly explode if we aren’t ready. And moves like a bushfire.
“We have seen the same pattern repeated in cities and countries the world over; we must treat this virus with the respect and attention it deserves.”
According to him, more than four-and-a-half million cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO, and more than 300,000 people have lost their lives.
“But numbers don’t even begin to tell the story of this pandemic; each loss of life leaves a scar for families, communities and nations.
“The health impacts of the pandemic extend far beyond the sickness and death caused by the virus itself.
“The disruption to health systems threatens to unwind decades of progress against maternal and child mortality, HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, noncommunicable diseases, mental health, polio and many other of the most urgent health threats.
“And yet this is so much more than a health crisis. Lives and livelihoods have been lost or upended. Hundreds of millions of people have lost their jobs. Fear and uncertainty abound.
“The global economy is headed for its sharpest contraction since the Great Depression. The pandemic has brought out the best – and worst – of humanity:
“Fortitude and fear; solidarity and suspicion; rapport and recrimination. This contagion exposes the fault lines, inequalities, injustices and contradictions of our modern world,” he said.
Ghebreyesus said nations had come together as never before, and geopolitical divisions had been thrown into sharp relief.
“We have seen what is possible with cooperation, and what we risk without it. The pandemic is a reminder of the intimate and delicate relationship between people and planet.
“Any efforts to make our world safer are doomed to fail unless they address the critical interface between people and pathogens, and the existential threat of climate change that is making our earth less habitable.
“For all the economic, military and technological might of nations, we have been humbled by this very small microbe. If this virus is teaching us anything, it’s humility. Time for humility.
“Six months ago, it would have been inconceivable to most that the world’s biggest cities would fall eerily quiet; that shops, restaurants, schools and workplaces would be closed.
“That global travel would grind to a standstill; that simply shaking hands could be life-threatening.
“Terms once used only by epidemiologists, like “reproduction number”, “physical distancing” and “contact tracing” have become common parlance,” he said.
Ghebreyesus further said in less than five months, the pandemic had encircled the globe.
“All countries have faced challenges in coming to grips with this virus, rich and poor, large and small.
“Low-income countries, small island developing states and those suffering from violence and conflict are trying to confront this threat in the most challenging of circumstances.
“How do you practice physical distancing when you live in crowded conditions?
“How do you stay at home when you have to work to feed your family? How do you practice hand hygiene when you lack clean water?
“Some countries are succeeding in preventing widespread community transmission; some have issued stay-at-home orders and imposed severe social restrictions to suppress community transmission;
“Some are still bracing for the worst; and some are now assessing how to ease the restrictions that have exacted such a heavy social and economic toll,” he said.
According to him, WHO fully understands and supports the desire of countries to get back on their feet and back to work.
By Cecilia Ologunagba