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More must be done to protect nursing workforce as COVID cases rise in the Americas, says PAHO Director

Posted: Friday, May 6, 2022. 11:29 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Ahead of International Nurses Day on May 12, and as COVID cases and hospitalizations are rising once again, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Carissa F. Etienne, has called on countries to urgently increase investments to develop and retain the nursing workforce.

Director Etienne thanked nurses for playing a central role in caring for those with COVID-19, and for being key to rolling out 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the region. “Throughout the Americas, nurses bravely faced the brunt of the pandemic, and many struggled with burnout and mental health conditions,” with some moving out of the area and others leaving the workforce altogether, she said, continuing, “Today, nurses shoulder the dual burden of caring for COVID patients and catching up those who have missed routine health check-ups over the past two years…”

Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare workforce, especially during the pandemic, accounting for 56 percent of the health staff and providing primary care services, mental health support, and protecting the wellbeing of individuals, communities, and families. But with a nursing deficit estimated at 1.8 million nurses by 2030 in the Americas, it is crucial that we “double our investments in growing our nursing workforce, and care for existing nurses so they can continue to care for us,” according to Director Etienne.

The PAHO Director urged countries to implement clear policies to develop and retain the health workforce, including through adequate compensation and the development of senior leadership opportunities, as well as by elevating nurses and midwives within the government and Ministries of Health.

Supporting the mental health of nurses is also crucial, with PAHO’s COVID-19 healthcare workers study showing that almost one-quarter of healthcare workers interviewed in 2020 presented symptoms of a depressive episode.

Some countries are addressing this through the implementation of mental health services and hotlines.

PAHO is also rolling out a self-care course catered specifically to health workers, and today, Friday, May 6, will launch a High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19 to take a closer look at the impact of the pandemic on mental health in the Americas.


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