ICN COVID-19 UPDATE: 17 April 2020

Submitted by ICN
April 17, 2020

ICN continues to be in constant contact with nurse leaders from our NNAs and the World Health Organization (WHO) to share concerns, discuss progress and seek solutions in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The supply and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) remains a major issue, with many nursing staff feeling fearful and anxious about their own safety, and that of their families.

ICN President Annette Kennedy said:

“It is clear from our discussions that in many parts of the world nurses are working long hours under extreme pressure. I call on governments to do all that is necessary to protect their nursing workforces, which are an especially vital resource at this time and that is why ICN with its partners in the World Health Professionals Alliance, wrote to G20 leaders with that demand. We must also make sure that the nurses who have died as a result of COVID-19 are never forgotten.

‘The world is looking to nurses to care for its people, and they can only do that with the love of their communities, which is self-evident, and the practical support of their governments. This pandemic has drained the resources that we have, and it looks like we will be in a protracted battle to defeat this virus. We need the world’s governments to step forward, as nurses have done, and take decisive action to care for the carers who are giving patients the chance to survive COVID-19.”

There is concern about infection rates in community and rural areas in poorer countries: while there is a suspicion that the number of infected people is high, there is little or no testing, so the numbers remain unknown. Testing is vital if we are to stem the pandemic.

Countries that have weaker or less well-developed and poorly funded healthcare systems also tend to have fragile, basic infrastructure, including inadequate water and food supply systems. There is a fear that the already weak economies and infrastructures in such countries may not be able to sustain a long period of lockdown. In some countries there are also concerns that authorities will struggle to maintain social order.

So far, we understand that more than 23,000 healthcare workers have or had COVID-19 but that infection rate is thought to be a gross underestimate because of the paucity of testing that is taking place. We need countries to ramp up their testing regimes so that they can provide regular, standardised reporting of health worker infections to WHO. Such reporting would enable us to better understand the spread and transmission of the virus, and protect staff and the health systems they work in.

ICN CEO Howard Catton made this precise point during an interview with EuroNews television this week, in which he also implored G20 governments to do more to coordinate the supply of PPE.

“There is no systematic reporting by countries of nurses and healthcare workers’ infection rates to WHO. And that matters because if we know which workers have been infected, where they were working in which setting, we are then able to take the necessary prevention and control measures. What gets measured counts, above all nurses and healthcare workers who are risking their own health for that of their patients.”

ICN, in line with the American Nurses Association, was also swift to call for solidarity behind WHO after President Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S funding for the organisation. In an ICN statement picked up by Reuters and the New York Times we made it clear that now was not the moment for disunity in the teeth of the pandemic, and that there was the risk of cutting off the oxygen supply to WHO at a time when it was most needed, with serious implications for front line nurses, particularly in vulnerable poorer countries in Africa and Latin America.

ICN has reached out to these regions and is holding regular webinars and talks to share useful information and learnings. A new collaboration with the BBC will give more exposure to our nurses in Africa via video diaries sent by the NNAs (including South Africa, Senegal and DRC) which will be used in BBC television and radio reports. We aim to carry out a similar initiative in Latin America and other regions.

Our nursing policy department continues its vital work and this week launched our new Advanced Practice Nursing (APN) guidelines. These guidelines will help countries to develop policies, frameworks and strategies that support APN initiatives around the globe. We know that the promotion of APN is an efficient and effective way to address the fragility of our healthcare systems which has been brought into sharp focus by the COVID-19 pandemic. APN delivers high-quality, safe, affordable, patient-focused care, a point underlined by the ICN CEO during the APN launch.

Mr Catton said:

“APN represents a huge opportunity to develop and grow strong health systems. APN has a leading role to play in the prevention and containment of diseases, as well as providing first contact and long-term care, whilst benefiting vulnerable groups that other healthcare professionals may not reach.”

COVID-19 portal

ICN continues in its efforts to support our NNAs through top level media exposure and a strong digital presence.

This COVID-19 portal, which includes links to important COVID-19-related resources will be continually updated. The portal also provides an opportunity for nurses to share their learnings, experiences and stories during the pandemic. We are keen to hear from you, our National Nurses Associations (NNAs) and from individual nurses all around the world about how their lives and work have changed as a result of the pandemic. If you tell us your stories, we will share them with the world’s nurses so that they can learn from your experiences, protect themselves better and save lives. The portal also includes a link to our 2020 International Nurses Day resources which are used by nurses all around the world.