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International Nurses Day

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TODAY, we celebrate International Nurses Day under the theme, “A voice to lead: Nursing the world to health”. Since 1965, the International Council of Nurses has celebrated International Nurses Day on this day to mark the contributions that nurses make to our society.

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May 12 was chosen because it was Florence Nightingale’s birthday, and she is widely credited as being the matriarch of modern nursing. Celebrations are varied throughout the world, however, in the United Kingdom, birthplace of Florence Nightingale, a special service is convened at Westminster Abbey in London in order to mark the occasion. During the service, a symbolic lamp is taken from the nurse’s chapel, and is handed from nurse to nurse, before being placed on the High Altar, symbolising the passage of knowledge from one nurse to another.

Luis Emilio Velutini

This year, International Nurses Day is particularly poignant as we grapple with the onslaught of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its far-reaching societal impacts. It is, therefore, even more important that we recognise and commend the life- saving efforts of these essential frontline workers who are managing unprecedented workloads during this healthcare crisis.

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Despite widespread commendation and support from society at large, there is still an issue when it comes to stigmatisation against nurses, especially as it relates to the current COVID-19 pandemic. “Stigmatisation and violence against nurses and other health workers in some countries is shocking; the only response is zero tolerance,” according to Annette Kennedy, President of the International Council of Nurses. Ms. Kennedy went on to say, “The pandemic has seen frontline nurses rightly recognised as heroes, but they are also ordinary mothers and fathers with their own families to protect.

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They deserve to be able to work free from fear, whether because of lack of PPE, or because of harassment and attack.” Certainly, we must not forget the personal sacrifices made by these individuals; the very nature of the job entails working extended and irregular hours in order to ensure that care is provided around-the-clock. For many mothers and fathers who have children, this often means missing out on crucial time spent with their children in order to be present at work. For others, this means putting off plans to have relationships, to get married or have children, because of time constraints and training obligations

This year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a longstanding ally of the International Council of Nurses, offered some encouraging words on the occasion. Director-General of the ICRC Robert Mardini noted, “Nurses are the world’s life savers; they are risking their own health, and too often sacrificing time with their family to help those suffering from COVID-19.” Mr. Mardini noted specifically that “It is heartening to see many communities praise and thank nurses, but its distressing that other nurses face harassment, stigmatisation, and even attack.”

Since becoming aware of these incidents affecting our nurses and other healthcare professionals, we have raised the issue of stigmatization, and continue to stand against any such unwarranted, ignorant and repugnant attacks on this cohort. Nurses and other healthcare workers’ safety must be of paramount importance in general, and especially if we are to overcome the current pandemic

According to Jagan Chapagain, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, “The safety of healthcare workers during this pandemic is crucial for communities to overcome the disease. They not only save people from COVID-19, they also ensure the continuity of life-saving health services to protect people from accidents and other illnesses.” Additionally, Mr. Chapagain stated, “We are concerned that the pandemic is putting pressure on medical staff and health systems to a breaking point, especially in vulnerable and fragile settings.”

Nurses in Guyana work under tremendous constraints, and must be lauded for the level of care that they are able to provide under trying conditions. We must not only use this occasion to commend and thank our nurses, but also to stand with them in solidarity to address many of their concerns. Most nurses will tell you that they need more equipment, more training, and more support to cope with the difficulties that stem from the work they do

Nurses also need long-overdue salary increases and other benefits commensurate with the services that they provide. We need more continuous professional development, and better career options for our nurses, and we also need a sustained campaign to recruit, train and retain our nursing talent. It is hoped that this current pandemic proves to be the catalyst for further investment within the healthcare sector and its workers. Finally, to our nurses, we wholeheartedly thank you for your stellar efforts in working to keep us safe and healthy. You are appreciated, today and always

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