WHO Report Says Nurses Play Key Role In Fighting Deadliest Global Health Risks

Jason Pierce, MSN, MBA, RN for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

A report recently published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and co-author Dr Linda Sarna emphasizes the vital role of nurses and midwives in reducing the worldwide impact of non-communicable diseases (NCD). Because of this vital role, we have seen an increase in accelerated nursing programs all over the world.

“The global burden of non-communicable diseases is already high and continues to grow in all regions of the world,” said Sarna. “Nurses and midwives have the expertise to help individuals and communities improve health outcomes.”

With more than 19 million members worldwide, nurses and midwives make up the largest group of healthcare providers and are among the most respected and most trusted members of the healthcare team. The holistic approach used by nurses to address the health of individuals and communities incorporates strategies to prevent illness, promote wellness and build on existing strengths and resources. In addition, nurses frequently interact with patients of all ages, from every socioeconomic status, and in a variety of settings.

Noncommunicable diseases are illnesses that typically last a long time and lead to slow deterioration of an individual´s health. Four broad types of NCDs were discussed in the report: cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. These four types were chosen by the WHO because they collectively account for 60 percent of deaths worldwide. In addition, 80 percent of deaths due to these NCDs occur in low-income and middle-income countries largely before the age of 60.

Although deadly, these four disease types are preventable by addressing four primary risk factors: tobacco use, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets. The report points out that nurses and midwives are uniquely positioned to address these risk factors through evidence-based interventions such as implementing smoking cessation interventions, promoting physical activity, and providing dietary education and guidance.

The report includes examples of nursing interventions designed to address NCDs and associated risk factors, and calls for nurses to become more involved in policy development, advocacy, research and education.

“The examples contained in the report are proven activities that nurses can start doing today to make a meaningful impact with their patients and in their community,” Sarna said. “Many of the interventions have been proven to reduce costs and improve the quality of care.”

The authors hope the report will inspire further expansion of nursing and midwifery practice related to disease prevention. The report encourages increasing nurse education in the area of counseling patients about unhealthy behaviors as well as greater funding for nursing research.

The report also calls for nurses and midwives to become more active in policy development and patient advocacy at the highest levels. For example, it suggests strategies such as working with legislators to draft policies and providing leadership toward developing standards of practice within organizations.

According to Sarna, “This document is a template for focused activities that nurses can implement today to reduce risk factors and that can direct policy and funding for education programs and research.”