On May 12, International Nurses Day, Public Services International (PSI) issues a Manifesto and call for mobilization among trade unions and civil society to demand universal public health once and for all.
The United Nations World Health Assembly resolved to celebrate nurses and midwives by declaring 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife (IYNM). May 12 this year marks 200 years since the birth of Florence Nightingale and the birth of formally recognised nursing in public health.
This year, more than ever, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses should be celebrated and recognised not as “unsung heroes”, but as professionals who deserve the respect of all society and are worthy of decent wages and protection.
Unions representing nurses and healthcare workers, organisations and their members, listed here, want International Nurses Day 2020 to mark the day governments turned away from the failed, and ultimately dangerous, ideology of neoliberalism and austerity, and instead committed to rebuilding economies through large scale investments in universal public health.
The pandemic has demonstrated how vital public health workers are to our survival. Yet nurses are being dangerously overworked, given inadequate protective equipment, suffering trauma and stress, have been assaulted and abused, and are even being evicted from their homes.
In a survey of health unions conducted by Public Services International (PSI) 56.5% of respondents indicated that workers have not been given adequate PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic. While we don’t know the true figure of how many healthcare workers have been infected, we do know that hundreds have already died.
The COVID-19 crisis has been made worse by years of under-funding of public health systems and the ideological virus of neoliberalism.
While the healthcare industry is one of the largest growing industries globally, public funding for vital public health services is failing to meet needs. In too many countries, public funding for health is being eaten up by costs inflated by the medical industry. Too many nurses and other healthcare workers are hired on short-term or insecure contracts. Now is the time to recognise that poor wages and conditions puts public health at risk.
Health systems would not have been so unprepared for the pandemic if they had been adequately funded, if governments had legislated for adequate nurse to patient ratios and if countries ensured they had the productive capacity for lifesaving PPE, medical equipment, medical research and the production of vaccines and treatments.
In its recently published report, State of the World’s Nursing, the World Health Organization found that, even prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the world needed 6 million additional nurses to meet minimum health needs. Governments must expand funds for nursing education and training and not rely on importing nurses from countries that are also struggling to meet their own public health needs. The best way to attract and retain nurses is to nurses is to recognise the social value of their work, pay them properly and ensure adequate staffing levels.
Global public health, and the individual right to health, can only be achieved if all elements of public health services are owned, managed, staffed and delivered through a public system, from the monitoring of public health, health research, health diagnostics and data, to tertiary care and provision of medicines.
Funds for public health must not be taken from other public services. Nor should developing countries be forced into additional debt. Instead we call for reform of national and global tax and financing rules that currently allow USD30 trillion to be hidden in tax havens. When multinational corporations and billionaires use tax avoidance measures, they are deliberately undermining our public health system and refusing to contribute to the salaries of nurses, health workers and others delivering the public services required for a functioning and healthy society.
As we rebuild from the crisis, we must transform the way societies are organised. We must organise our societies around the capacity to care. When care and wellbeing of all people is the central organising principle of a society, rather than the capacity to extract and grow profits and consumption, all society will prosper. We must all recognise the union adage Touch One Touch All – if our healthcare systems cannot care for all, we are all at risk.
When governments pay respect to nurses today, we ask them to recognise the following fundamental principles:
- The most important purpose of government is to organise society so that everyone can be cared for.
- We can no longer tolerate the perverse practice of extracting profits from ill-health.
- Healthcare must never be dependent on the capacity to pay.
- Trade must enhance the capacity of nations to provide quality public healthcare, not restrict it.
And we call on:
- Governments to work with nurses and their unions to develop public health reconstruction plans
- Governments to remove all obstacles, including intellectual property rules, in existing trade agreements and rules that hinder timely and affordable access to medical supplies, such as lifesaving medicines, devices, diagnostics and vaccines, and the ability of governments to take whatever steps are necessary to address this crisis
- All governments to support the proposal by the Government of Costa Rica to develop a global COVID-19 commons for all research, data, technology, treatments and vaccines relating to COVID-19 as a non-proprietary shared global resource
- The World Bank to stop providing funds for public health to the private health industry and for the International Finance Corporation to stop promoting health privatisation which includes the flawed model of Public Private Partnerships
- The IMF to cease directing governments to cut public spending and public sector wages
- All unions and civil society organisations to mobilise in the demand for universal public health once and for all.