Nurses and midwives: A force for enhancing health and strengthening health systems

Photo story: The vital role of nurses and midwives in the European Region

State neonatal center “Clinical maternity hospital No1

In the WHO European Region, nurses and midwives – an estimated total of 7.3 million – make up the majority of health care professionals, delivering health services to people of all ages. A recently published compendium of good practices in nursing and midwifery illustrates the fundamental importance of these health care professionals to public health and well-being. Its 55 case studies from 18 countries provide examples of how nurses and midwives enhance health.

The contributions of nurses and midwives, however, stretch beyond their patients and even their communities: they are also on the front line of strengthening health systems and ensuring that the Region realizes the goals and ambitions set out in the European health policy Health 2020 and that the Region and the world achieve the health targets in Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

Each year, the world recognizes the major contributions of nurses and midwives on the International Day of the Midwife and International Nurses Day, observed on 5 May and 12 May, respectively. Follow the links below to learn more about the ways in which they contribute and to read case studies from the compendium.

Scaling up and sharing good examples

While the case studies illustrate good practices and innovations, the compendium reveals that they are not always well documented, rigorously evaluated, scaled up or shared within or among countries in the Region. Consequently, they have limited influence in decision-making at national or local level, and the contribution of nurses and midwives to research and collecting evidence and in the design of services and technology is also limited.   

Strong government leadership and supportive policies are the most important means for optimizing the roles of nurses and midwives in strengthening health systems. As policy-makers and decision-makers reflect on the ways that nurses and midwives can strengthen and improve the resilience of health systems – the theme of this year's International Nurses Day – WHO/Europe urges them to steer policy towards supporting and encouraging the enhanced contribution of this vital group of health workers.