The vital role of nurses in achieving universal health coverage was acknowledged by the appointment of Elizabeth Iro as Chief Nursing Officer at the World Health Organization on October 12. In this position, which had been vacant since 2010, she will be part of the senior leadership team of the WHO to be a voice for nurses who are responsible for 80% of healthcare across the world.
“Nurses play a critical role not only in delivering healthcare to millions around the world, but also in transforming health policies, promoting health in communities, and supporting patients and families,” said Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, in announcing the appointment. “Nurses are central to achieving universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. Ms. Iro will keep that perspective front and center at WHO.”
“Nurses are central to achieving universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. Ms. Iro will keep that perspective front and center at WHO.”
Elizabeth Iro is a person who can identify the challenges faced by nurses every day. “I bring to this role my lived experience as a woman, a mother, a nurse, and midwife, “she said. “I think this appointment is going to be raising the profile of nursing and midwifery and I anticipate it will be encouraging and enabling for nurses to work to their full potential if countries are to achieve universal health coverage.“
As a registered nurse and passionate public health campaigner, who has been involved in public health for the past 30 years, Elizabeth Iro is also well qualified to represent the nursing profession at the policymaking table. She has been the Secretary of Health for the Cook Islands since 2012, a time during which she introduced many initiatives to improve health care delivery to the community. Before this, she had been the country’s Chief Nursing Officer after having worked as a staff nurse, midwife and charge midwife. She holds master’s degrees in both Health Science and Business Administration and was also past president of the Cook Islands Nurses Association.
Nursing and healthcare organizations across the world have applauded the appointment of a Chief Nursing Officer at the WHO. “Recognizing the critical role of nurses in the achievement of universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals, ICN welcomes this announcement as good news for patients, populations and improved health care around the world,” stated the International Council of Nurses. It had met with Dr. Tedros a number of times to lobby for the reinstatement of the Chief Nursing Officer position and applauded him for keeping the pledge he had made at the 2017 ICN Congress in Barcelona to have a senior staff person representing the voice of nursing at the WHO.
Also on the ICN twitter account, many nurses responded positively to this development with comments such as “Congratulations to nurses worldwide” and “A wonderful day for our profession and the people and communities we care for.”