State of the World’s Nursing Report 2020 Highlights the Role of Nurses in UHC


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Nurses education and training programmes should aim at graduates who drive progress in primary health care and Universal Health Coverage (UHC), the newly released State of the World’s Nursing 2020 advises.

The report by the World Health Organization, International Nurses Council and the Nursing Now Global Campaign underscores the importance of nurses in making contributions towards UHC and other national and global health objectives.

It summarizes evidence on the contribution of nurses across different clinical interventions and public health areas; ensuring quality of care and patient safety, preventing and controlling infections, and combating antimicrobial resistance.

 “Nurses have played a pivotal role as part of teams managing epidemics that threaten health across the globe, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, the Middle East respiratory coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outbreak in 2015), Zika virus disease in 2016, Ebola virus disease in 2014  and the COVID-19 outbreak that began in 2019,” the report reads in part.

“In outbreaks such as COVID-19 where hand hygiene, physical distancing and surface disinfection are central to containment, the infection prevention and control role of nurses is crucial,” the report stresses.

It thus argues that nursing should now emerge as a career choice grounded in science, technology, teamwork and health equity.  It calls on governments to invest in nursing faculties, availability of clinical placement sites and offer accessible programmes.

“Government chief nurses and other national stakeholders can lead national dialogue on the appropriate entry-level and specialization programmes for nurses to ensure there is adequate supply to meet the health system demand for graduates. Curricula must be aligned with national health priorities as well as emerging global issues to prepare nurses to work effectively in interprofessional teams and maximize graduate competencies in health technology,” the report recommends.

This report comes just as the world is celebrating 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

 It explores comprehensive evidence on the current nursing workforce globally; takes stock of the main challenges regarding the profession in the attainment of health goals; and provides concrete policy options to advance the nursing profession.

Although the global shortage of nurses, estimated to be 6.6 million in 2016, had decreased slightly to 5.9 million nurses in 2018, the findings show that the growth in the number of nurses is barely keeping pace with population growth.

To address the shortage by 2030 in all countries, the total number of nurse graduates would need to increase by 8% per year on average, alongside an improved capacity to employ and retain these graduates.

On migration, the report warns that unmanaged migration can exacerbate shortages and contribute to inequitable access to health services. The findings reveal that 1 out of 8 nurses practices in a country other than the one where they were born or trained.

The findings show that many high-income countries in American and European regions appear to have an excessive reliance on international nursing mobility due to ageing health workforce patterns and fewer graduates among other factors.

To this effect, the report states that nurse mobility and migration must be effectively monitored and responsibly and ethically managed. Actions needed include reinforcement of the implementation of the WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel by countries, recruiters and international stakeholders.

“Countries that are over reliant on migrant nurses should aim towards greater self-sufficiency by investing more in domestic production of nurses. Countries experiencing excessive losses of their nursing workforce through out-migration should consider mitigating measures and retention packages, such as improving salaries (and pay equity) and working conditions, creating professional development opportunities, and allowing nurses to work to their full scope of education and training,” it reads in part.

Overall, there is some evidence of a gender-based pay gap, as well as other forms of gender-based discrimination in the work environment. 90% of the nursing workforce is female, but few leadership positions in health are held by nurses or women.

Find the link to the report here:

Compiled by Carol Natukunda,

Communications Specialist, African Center for Global Health and Social Transformation


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