GENEVA: At least 3,000 nurses have been killed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), the global nurses’ federation said on Thursday as it warned of a looming exodus of health workers traumatized by the pandemic.
Exactly one year on since the World Health Organization (WHO) first described Covid-19 as a pandemic, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) said burnout and stress had led millions of nurses to consider quitting the profession.
And once the pandemic is over, a dwindling number of experienced nurses could be left to handle the giant backlog of regular hospital care that had been postponed due to the crisis, the ICN warned.
The known death toll of nurses killed by the disease — compiled from just 60 countries — is likely to be a gross underestimate of the full total, the federation said.
ICN chief executive Howard Catton said nurses had gone through “mass traumatization” during the pandemic, being pushed to physical and mental exhaustion.
“They reach a point where they’ve given everything they can,” he told reporters. Catton said the global workforce of 27 million nurses was 6 million short going into the pandemic — and 4 million were heading for retirement by 2030.
In a report, the ICN said the pandemic “could trigger a mass exodus from the profession,” from as early as the second half of 2021. The global nurse shortage could widen to nearly 13 million, it added.
“We could be on a precipice,” said Catton, recalling that it took three to four years of training to produce a novice nurse.
He said nurses had done a “phenomenal” job “to lead the world through this pandemic,” saying they would share an equal platform with the vaccine creators in the eventual history of Covid-19.
But once the pandemic has passed, frazzled nurses will then have to deal with all the unmet health care needs and waiting lists, while also facing likely staff shortages. Founded in 1899, the ICN is a federation of more than 130 national nursing associations.
It called for governments to invest in training more new nurses to address the global shortage. It also called for better pay to encourage existing staff to stay on — to bolster health systems for future crises, if nothing else.
The WHO wants to see health care workers in all countries being vaccinated within the first 100 days of 2021.
Catton said that was the start line rather than the finish line and voiced “grave concerns” at the unequal distribution of vaccines between rich and poor countries.