Resolutions include strengthening access to nurse midwives in underserved areas.


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The World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), held its 74th annual meeting virtually in May to discuss health issues such as COVID-19 response and preparedness; mental health; antimicrobial resistance; the health workforce; and violence against women, girls, and children.


More than 30 resolutions and decisions were adopted concerning public health, including several aimed at strengthening nurse midwifery access. Assembly members approved WHO Global Strategic Directions for Nursing and Midwifery 2021-2025, which details priorities in these areas. "It's the first time a nursing strategy has been adopted at the World Health Assembly meeting," said Michelle Acorn, chief nurse of the International Council of Nurses (ICN).


The recommended priorities include strengthening nurse midwifery education, creating strategies to recruit and retain enough nurse midwives to meet health system needs, strengthening senior nursing and midwifery leadership, and improving practice environments and pay. Acorn also delivered the ICN's Health Workforce intervention to alleviate the global shortage of nurses. The ICN and the WHO addressed other nursing concerns as well, including how the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted progress in meeting sustainable development goals and improving universal health care coverage.


The WHO's annual health statistics report (https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/342703/9789240027053-eng.pdf) underscored these concerns, particularly regarding workforce shortages. The report documents an uneven distribution of health care workers by age, gender, and place of employment, which "hinders national capacities to achieve [universal health coverage]." The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these inequities by, for example, reducing the supply of nurses and midwives in underserved areas.


Presentations made at the World Health Assembly annual meeting can be viewed on the ICN website at http://www.icn.ch/news/icn-world-health-assembly-74.-Gail M. Pfeifer, MA, RN