Every nurse must “see themselves” in the climate change agenda and help enact positive change, the chief nursing officer at the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged.
During a keynote speech at the Royal College of Nursing’s Sustainability Nursing Conference today, Elizabeth Iro discussed her priorities in ensuring that nurses can be part of the force to tackle climate change.
“Across the world nurses and midwives will be at the forefront of care provision and must know how to support and care for not only individuals, but for the entire community suffering from trauma as a result of catastrophic events brought about by climate change,” she said.
“To deliver what is needed we need to be strong, courageous and work together”
Ms Iro warned that in the context of climate change, the lack of nurses and midwives available is a “global crisis”.
However, if the nursing workforce is strengthened, she said, then nurses can be “advocates for the profession” and meaningfully engage in conversations about the climate crisis.
She said: “Our communities cannot afford to face the future without the workforce to keep them healthy, or to look out for them when they are ill.
“If we fail to act, if we fail to prepare for the future and we fail to address the critical issues we face as a result of climate change, we will fail the people who rely on us and trust us to keep them healthy.”
Ms Iro urged that nurses “must be equipped with knowledge of diseases that commonly affect human health as a result of climate change”, as well as with the skills to deliver the clinical care prevention and treatment that is needed for patients suffering from these diseases.
She said these actions are outlined in the WHO Global Strategic Directions for Nursing and Midwifery (2021–2025), which sets out practices and policy priorities that can help countries ensure that nurses and midwives optimally contribute to achieving universal health coverage and other population health goals.
Strengthening nursing leadership is also “urgent”, in order to influence policymakers to enact sustainable changes in healthcare, Ms Iro said.
She described how many countries have no formal leadership programmes for nurses or midwives and few have senior nursing roles in governments. Meanwhile, in some countries the senior representative for nursing and midwifery is not a nurse or midwife, she added.
“This must change if strategies are to be actioned which will address the impact of climate change on health,” Ms Iro said.
Ms Iro explained how she had hope that there was “still time to turn this around”, and that the current nursing workforce should be the generation who “got on top” of climate change.
“My simple message of this complex discussion is clear. Nurses and midwives have a huge role to play, but to deliver what is needed, we need to be strong, courageous and work together.”
As much as it is about discussing the issue at conferences, Ms Iro said, it is also about how these discussions are taken forwards.
“[It is about] how we continue the conversations, to make sure that this is not off the agenda at all going forward, to make sure this becomes a norm we’ll be discussing as we would with pathological diseases.
“This becomes a nursing issue. I think every nurse needs to see themselves in the climate change agenda.”
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