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December 2019

2020: WHO Year of the nurse and midwife



The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 as the first ever International Year of the Nurse and Midwife in recognition of their vital role in providing health services.

WHO says: ‘These are the people who devote their lives to caring for mothers and children; giving lifesaving immunisations and health advice; looking after older people and generally meeting everyday essential needs. They are often the first and only point of care in their communities.

‘Quite simply, the world will only achieve universal health coverage by recognising the critical role [nurses and midwives] play and by investing more in the nursing and midwifery workforce.’

2020 was chosen because it is the bicentenary of the birth of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. Working with partners including the International Council of Nurses (ICN), the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), Nursing Now and the United Nations Population Fund, WHO will:

  • Celebrate the contributions of health workers, with particular focus on nurses and midwives, in improving health globally
  • Acknowledge, appreciate and address the challenging conditions nurses and midwives face while providing care where it’s needed most, and
  • Advocate for increased investment in the nursing and midwifery workforce.

An editorial in The Lancet says the year-long initiative offers ‘hope that nurses and midwives, who are the backbone of primary health-care systems worldwide, will at last receive the recognition, support and development they need.’

Nurses and midwives make up nearly half the global health workforce – there are 20 million nurses worldwide – but WHO estimates that another 9 million nurses and midwives will be needed in the next 10 years.

The Lancet says nursing remains underappreciated because of gender and stereotyping: ‘Nursing is still viewed by many as women’s work and a soft science, rather than the highly skilled profession it really is… We are a long way from realising the full value of nursing.’

The first ever State of the World’s Nursing Report is due to be published on World Health Day, 7 April 2020.


Lancet 2019;394(10212):1879 https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)32794-1/fulltext