Celebrating nurses’ and midwives’ role in bringing health services to everyone, everywhere

Ministry of Health Israel

Nurses and midwives make up the majority of the health workforce worldwide. Each year for a week, beginning with International Day of the Midwife on 5 May and culminating in International Nurses Day on 12 May, we celebrate their huge contribution to health in the WHO European Region.

This year, WHO/Europe has again gathered quotes and stories from midwives and nurses across the Region. Each has a unique perspective to share. From Israel we hear how nurses lead emergency response in a trauma centre, while from Sweden we learn how midwives are training bilingual doulas to improve outcomes and experiences of pregnancy and birth for migrant women.

When the roads are impassable in Voronezh Region, Russian Federation, Nurse Evgenia Tkalya walks to visit her patients. Nurse Svetlana Zelyanina in Vologda Region, Russian Federation, says patients’ smiles “make us nurses the happiest people in the world”.

Nurses closing gaps in universal health coverage

The theme of this year’s World Health Day, and of an ongoing WHO campaign, is universal health coverage – something that cannot be achieved without nurses and midwives. Two volunteer nurses for the Danish Red Cross relate their experience of helping to bridge the health-care gap for those who find themselves undocumented and unable to access health care. Many other stories cover the breadth and scope of what a career as a nurse or midwife can become, whether that means decades on a maternity ward or a path into research.

There are an estimated 7.3 million nurses and midwives in the Region, but this is not enough to meet current or future needs. As the health needs of the Region change, with growing numbers of older people who often need long-term care, nurses become an increasingly important part of the response. Yet a decreasing number of young people are choosing to train in the field of nursing, and many eastern European countries are losing their health professionals to western European countries.

WHO/Europe is committed to supporting Member States’ implementation of the European strategic directions for strengthening nursing and midwifery towards Health 2020 goals, launched in 2015. Professional associations are also key partners in advocating for progress towards ensuring that care is patient-centred, that standards of care are as high as possible and that outcomes are improved for patients. Nursing and midwifery are a central focus of WHO collaborations with ministries of health to raise awareness of the need to recruit, train and empower nurses and midwives.