Nurses Go Global to Confront World’s Crises
This summer, nurses and other healthcare workers from nations worldwide came together in San Francisco for a historic meeting.
Faced with monumental public health challenges, the result of enduring economic hardships and cuts to essential services, as well as threats to safe patient care systems that underpin our professional mandate, we pledged to bring an end to a system that puts people and communities at risk across the planet.
Nurses and other healthcare workers share a very special vantage point: We see on an intimate basis how conditions in society manifest themselves —one patient at a time.
What we see today is a world of patients in serious distress.
Against this backdrop, we announced the formation of Global Nurses United,comprised of nurses and healthcare workers from 14 countries-- Australia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Ireland, Israel, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, and the United States. More are expected to join.
As we said in the opening declaration of our founding conference on June 22: “We, the leaders of international nurses and healthcare unions, affirm our intention to work collectively to protect our professions, our patients, our communities, our work, our health, our environment, and our planet.”
Everyday, we provide safe patient care, and seek to better secure that care with safe nurse-to-patient ratios and safe healthcare workplaces. We all gain by working collectively to achieve the highest standards of universal healthcare as a human right for all.
We further recognize that meeting the fundamental needs of people is a precondition for guaranteeing universal healthcare as a human right.
Monica Dicon of Argentina’s Federación Sindical de Profesionales de la Salud and a nurse at Buenos Aires’ largest hospital called upon “societies to honor such basic rights as health, education, and a dignified life.”
Global Nurses United members see the details of demise in a world that puts profit ahead of access to the most essential goods and services.
High levels of unemployment and severe environmental degradation are pervasive, fueled further by the unrelenting policies of austerity, heaping poverty on poverty, with profound public health consequences.
These conditions call out for global action and solutions.
In Brazil, hundreds of thousands filled the streets on June 17, and continued thereafter, calling for investment in public transportation, healthcare and education, as that nation’s growth policies have churned out hefty profits but failed to support these basic services.
A two-tiered healthcare system in South Africa has limited quality and access to care for a large portion of the population, as demand for treatment of HIV and tuberculosis remains high.
In the Dominican Republic, the maternal death rate is one in 320, due in large part to a public system overwhelmed by need. Yet 31 percent of the healthcare sector is private.
Canadians are wrestling with extensive environmental harm, including toxic tar sand removal and transport, notably the Keystone Pipeline projects.
In the Philippines’ largest city, Manila, the fastest growing city in the world, thousands live in the shadow of power stations or industrial plants while 2.2 million vehicles choke the streets. According to the World Health Organization, levels of lead in Manila’s air are more than three times the established safety limit. Hazardous air pollutants have been linked to impairment of neurological function and ability to learn, pulmonary and cardiovascular disease and cancer.
In Israel, there are calls to turn back the privatization of nursing care that has undercut the national health system.
Nurses in Australia are speaking out as healthcare is targeted for cuts. “What they’re planning for our health systems and unions is diabolical,” said Judith Kiejda of the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association.
The financial crisis visited upon scores of nations as a result of fraud and deception in banking hit hard in Ireland, where austerity cuts equal to 15 percent of the country’s annual output were carried out after 2008. With services in steep decline and a plummeting jobs market, thousands are simply leaving the country, if they can.
Here in the U.S., healthcare continues to be a major profit center for Wall Street, as consolidation in that sector continues. Price gouging is the norm. Delivery charges for babies have tripled since 1996, reported the New York Times recently, bringing the cumulative annual costs of the approximate four million births to over $50 billion. Despite these expenditures, the U.S. ranked 27th in infant mortality among the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
In all the nations represented in the Global Nurses United, there are regular reports of high unemployment and cuts in essential services -- including healthcare. There is also a decaying environment, having profound and negative outcomes for the public’s health.
“We have been surprised by the fact that the most developed countries of the world are experiencing the same problems as the poor countries,” said Maria Yanet Almendarez of Honduras’ Asociation Nacional de Enfermeras/os Auxiliares.
Global Nurses United members plan to launch the new organization with actions in member nations in September. These coincide with the opening of the next session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Nurses and healthcare workers will not stand by as societies are set back. We wouldn’t be doing our job if we did.
Deborah Burger, R.N., is co-president of National Nurses United, the largest association of registered nurses in the U.S., with 185,000 members.
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