Celebrating our unsung heroes on International Nurses Day

International Nurses Day is observed annually on the 12th of May, and now more than ever we witness the hard work and dedication of millions of nurses across the globe as they fight in the frontline of the battle against COVID-19.

Taking place on the day of Florence Nightingale’s birth, with 2020 being the 200th anniversary, International Nurses Day is led by The International Council of Nurses (ICN), which has been in operation for 12 decades and represents over 20 million nurses world-wide. The theme for International Nurses Day 2020 “Nursing the World to Health” was announced by the ICN in October of 2019 and today it could not have taken on a more fitting theme.

In a special International Nurses Day tribute, President Cyril Ramaphosa thanked all South Africa’s nurses for their critical contribution to the nation’s wellbeing and called on communities to accord nurses the necessary gratitude and support.

Currently, nurses are placing themselves between our communities and the unseen enemy we face in COVID-19. We are humbled by their bravery, their hard work and their commitment to putting the interests of all South Africans before their own and those of their own families.

Nurses deserve our appreciation and gratitude and we must offer nurses the protection they need against a range of threats, from viruses to violence. Let us pause today to celebrate this invaluable and treasured cadre of our society and let us give them our full support and gratitude into the future.

In his International Nurses Day address, Director-General of the World Health Organisation Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus referred to nurses as the backbone of every health system and urged all citizens to take time to honour the nurses and all health workers who have lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, ICN reported that more than 100 nurses from around the world had died after contracting COVID-19. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported 23,000 healthcare worker infections. ICN believes the numbers to be significantly higher and following information gathered suggest that at least 90,000 healthcare workers have been infected, and more than 260 nurses have died. The discrepancy in stats the ICN attributes to a failure on governmental level across the globe to collect the information in a consistent way. ICN is calling for data on healthcare worker infections and deaths to be systematically collected by national governments and held centrally at the WHO in order to show respect to the nurses who have given their lives, but also inform prevention strategies, such as addressing fundamental issues, including testing and the lack of personal protective equipment.

With over 500 nurses in South Africa who have contracted the Corona Virus thus far, it is important that our country acknowledges the effort and sacrifice these essential workers put in every day and furthermore that each citizen plays their part in fighting the pandemic by practising social distancing, wearing a mask in public, and adhering to hygiene and safety regulations so as to limit the spread and lighten the burden our nurses and health workers are carrying.

International Nurses Day in South Africa also celebrated an inspirational figure in South Africa history of health care workers, Cecilia Makiwane, who was the first registered professional black nurse in South Africa and an early activist in the struggle for women’s rights.

As the whole world fights a common enemy, may we not forget those who are in the frontlines of this battle by protecting ourselves in order to protect them too.