Fellow Citizens & Residents of St. Kitts and Nevis:
Today, May 12, 2020, St. Kitts and Nevis joins with the rest of the world in observing International Nurses’ Day. This year’s observance is being executed under the theme “Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Nursing the World to Health.” While it is true that this theme is an adaptation of the ones chosen for 2017-2019, this year’s focus is being centred deliberately on the tall global order that has now been placed on the shoulders of nurses in every country, continent and community in response to the novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. As a result of the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 on all global citizens our local nursing fraternity – like the rest of their international counterparts – are called upon to render critical nursing care in this time of greatest need to help heal the sick, to comfort the dying and to remain stoic at the centre of the health care continuum, even as the virus continues to leave a trail of infection, disease, death and disruption that has left no region of the world unscathed.
Thankfully for us in St. Kitts and Nevis, we do not share the horror stories of major pandemic hotspots such as Italy, Spain, the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom or France. We are grateful to God that, to date, we have had just 15 confirmed cases of Covid-19; with 14 recoveries; zero deaths; a high rate of testing; no community spread of the virus; close vigilance in terms of contact tracing and quarantine; and no need for hospitalization among those affected. This is a remarkable achievement for the smallest country in the Western hemisphere, and speaks volumes for the calibre of medical and technical leadership which this Country has been blessed to have in our Chief Medical Officer, Dr Hazel Laws, who ably supported by our Medical Chief of Staff, Dr Cameron Wilkinson; and a cadre of specialised support team leaders from within our public health system and the wider civil service. Our mild Covid-19 experiences have enabled our nursing fraternity to be spared from the well-told realities in other countries where it has become the norm for nurses to suffer the ravages of:
- extra-long shifts due to the ongoing global shortage of nurses;
- heavy emotional and physical tolls, including heartbreak over the death of some of their colleagues to Covid-19; or being the sole individual at the deathbed of a Covid-19 patient whose family cannot be there tosay their final good-byes;
- extended separation from their families;
- anxieties over insufficient supply of ventilators for critically ill patients;and
- insecurity over the limited yet precious supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Nevertheless, our local nurses have been well-trained, are adequately- resourced in terms of PPE, ventilators and other critical medial equipment; and stand ready to address the health care needs of our citizens and residents who may present at our hospitals with Covid-19 symptoms. We say a sincere “Thank You” to all of them for their service to our Country, and for their courage and willingness to make special sacrifices at this critical time in human history.
Today, May 12, 2020 holds historic significance for nursing the world over. Today marks the 200th Anniversary of the birth of the 19th century nurse Florence Nightingale, who is considered globally as the founder of modern- day nursing. In fact, International Nurses’ Day is celebrated each year on May 12th, out of respect and honour for this trailblazer who would have made a name for herself as she rendered stellar nursing service to soldiers on the battlefield during the Crimean War (October 1853 to February 1856). Her laborious efforts to improve conditions in field hospitals, to integrate infographics in the presentation of medical data, and to pioneer professional nursing education are well-documented for posterity in the annals of nursing history.
Long before the Covid-19 pandemic had been so declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that premier global health authority had announced – for the first time – a Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, to be celebrated in 2020. The WHO would have made this declaration in light of (a) the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale; and (b) grave concern over the serious shortage of nurses and midwives in the delivery of quality health care. The WHO has estimated that in order to achieve the 2030 goal of universal health coverage there needs to be added some 9 million more nurses and midwives to the current global pool of 28 million. Similar appeals have been documented by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), Mr Howard Catton, in his International Nurses’ Day 2020 address. Catton also cites the ICN document Nursing the World to Health which he considers to be recommended reading for world leaders at this time when there is serious need to chart a new course in terms of the role, education, career development, working conditions and re-tooling of the global nursing fraternity. Catton posits that this exercise is an imperative in order to adequately respond to the emerging health threats that will still be looming large, even after the Covid-19 pandemic is over and the World settles into a new normal that is nebulous at best. I couldn’t agree with Howard Catton more.
I am happy to remind our citizens and residents that our Team Unity Government has been addressing – since taking office – the state of nursing in the Federation. As early as 2016 the St. Christopher and Nevis Nurses and Midwives Council, the Ministry of Health, the Human Resources Department (HRD) of the Civil Service, and the nursing leadership within the community-based and institution-based health care settings have been addressing several inherited anomalies and challenges that were clearly evident upon Team Unity taking office in February 2015. This process has included deliberations on the reclassification of certain nursing positions; recalibration of some pay scales, particularly among nurses who are singly or dually trained; analysis of local skills gaps with regards to specialised nursing in areas such as oncology, intensive care unit (ICU) and neo-natal care; and the assessment of the legal and professional standing of graduate nurses who have exhausted all attempts at sitting the licensure examination for nurse registration, among other matters. Citizens and residents who may have followed the 2020 Budget Debate in Parliament in December 2019, may have recalled that in my own defense of the budgetary allocation to the Federal Ministry of Health1, I would have announced that after careful consideration the 2020 Budget was inclusive of an increase in salaries and wages for nurses. I would have also announced at that time that the total amount of funds earmarked for the pay raise (under personal emoluments and wages) was EC$1,141,587. I am advised that this budgeted increase in pay should be reflected in the salaries and wages of nurses from this month. The Federal Cabinet has also committed to continuing its engagement with the leadership of the nursing fraternity, the Nurses and Midwives Council and the HRD in order to bring settlement to the afore-mentioned concerns of the nursing fraternity and nursing practice in general.
The Federal Cabinet – and the Federal Ministry of Health – are quite cognizant of the fact that this year’s observance of International Nurses’ Day will be vastly different from celebrations of previous years. As can be expected, this is due to the pre-occupation of the Federation – and the rest of the world, for that matter – in responding to the formidable threats to life, liberty, public health and public safety as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, in spite of these setbacks, the Cabinet feels that now, more than ever, is an ideal opportunity to celebrate our nurses here and elsewhere for their selfless service, their care and their personal sacrifice in addressing the 1 Delivered on Tuesday, December 17, 2019 needs of our hurting and fractured World. The Cabinet takes this moment to salute all of our nurses, be they practicing in the public or private sectors. We remember at this time our retired nurses who have long blazed a trail for younger generations to follow and have laid a solid foundation for the advancements in public health that we take for granted today.
On behalf of the Federal Government I wish every nurse in our Federation a happy International Nurses’ Day 2020.
May God continue to bless the people of St. Kitts and Nevis with His unmerited favours of good health and wellness, even in the face of this monstrous global pandemic.