The Year of The Nurse and Midwife: A pandemic reminds us why health care professionals are so valuable
"I have a big heart that prompts me to engage in humanitarian work in all sectors, whether in times of peace, war, or natural disasters," said Etidal Abdo Nasser Al-Qabati, who has specialized in practical nursing and midwifery for three years in Yemen and studied for four years to become a paramedic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 as the "International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife," in honor of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth. This year, according to WHO, the world needs 9 million more nurses and midwives if it is to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.
''I started to volunteer for humanitarian work, with the Yemeni Red Crescent, in 1973, and fell in love with nursing and helping others,'' said Etidal, who is known as 'Mama Etidal.' "My biggest pain is knowing that we can conduct rescue missions but lack the necessary resources."
Pascale Sawma, a Lebanese citizen who joined the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2017, became a midwife, ''because it is amongst the most noble professions in the world".
''The relationship that the certified midwife builds with the couple is outstandingly beautiful. Indeed, she witnesses the couple's greatest moment of joy. And the most sacred event of their lifetime, i.e. the arrival of their newborn.''
According to Pascale, midwifery and nursing are misperceived by society. ''Honestly, when people used to ask me what I did for a living, I would answer by saying 'a certified midwife,' and the first response that I would get was: 'Oh, so you're a doula?' People don't realize that certified midwives are one of the pillars of the medical sector. ''
Nurses and midwives play a vital role in providing health services and are often the first and only points of care in their communities. Nurses in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have long been at the frontlines, in war, natural disasters and in combating major diseases like Ebola, SARS, coronaviruses and lately COVID-19, often putting their lives at risk.
Nour Ismail, a registered nurse at St. George Hospital in Beirut, and a Lebanese Red Cross volunteer, said nursing is her passion. "I love helping people, in any way I can,'' said Nour.
The blast at Beirut's port in August underscored society's need for health care professionals. But there's personnel loss, too. Nour lost her friend and colleague, Mireille Germanos, who was working with her on that day. Nour said: ''I have experienced the most overwhelming moment of my life. ... The hardest part by far was having to witness what happened to my colleague.''
Whether working in hospitals, clinics or in the field, these nurses experience the motions of life: joy, pain, and love.
Muhsin Ghalib, an Iraqi Red Crescent nursing officer, has chosen the nursing profession because it is a vocation that helps preserve human rights. Ghalib narrates an unforgettable experience where he witnessed the death of a young man who was helping his father at the hospital. "I can never forget this experience, because the father was the one who was sick, but ended up staying alive. Whereas his son, who was perfectly healthy, passed away just like that.''
Afra'a Ghannoum, a nurse at the Mobile Health Unit for Syrian Arab Red Crescent, SARC, chose the medical profession at a young age. ''I was living in a remote area deprived of any kind of health services. We used to face many difficult situations, where we wished someone could provide us with medical information, or basic first aid that could save a person's life."
It is pivotal to create and respect a humanitarian space in order to allow Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and health workers to care for people in need and alleviate human suffering among the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach communities.
Health workers who dedicate themselves to saving lives deserve society's respect. They must not be prevented from reaching those in need.
Nurses and midwives have devoted their lives to saving and caring for others. In return, we should protect, respect, recognize and give thanks nurses, midwives and all health workers.