The coronavirus crisis has shown that governments need to invest more in health care and employ more nurses, Pope Francis said Tuesday.
In a message marking International Nurses Day, the pope said the pandemic had exposed the weaknesses of the world’s health care systems.
“For this reason, I would ask leaders of nations throughout the world to invest in health care as the primary common good, by strengthening its systems and employing greater numbers of nurses, so as to ensure adequate care to everyone, with respect for the dignity of each person,” Pope Francis wrote in the message published May 12.
The pope noted that the World Health Organization has declared 2020 the International Year of Nurses and Midwives, and that Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, was born 200 years ago on May 12, 1820.
He then paid tribute to medical workers who have died while tending coronavirus victims.
He said: “At this critical moment, marked by the global health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have rediscovered the fundamental importance of the role being played by nurses and midwives.”
“Every day we witness the testimony of courage and sacrifice of healthcare workers, and nurses in particular, who, with professionalism, self-sacrifice, and a sense of responsibility and love for neighbor, assist people affected by the virus, even to the point of putting their own health at risk.”
“Sadly, this can be seen in the high number of healthcare workers who have died as a result of their faithful service. I pray for them -- the Lord knows each of them by name -- and for all the victims of this epidemic.”
Pope Francis described nursing as “a very special vocation” in which men and women become good Samaritans offering “courage, hope and trust” to others.
Addressing nurses directly, he said: “You -- and here I think too of midwives -- are close to people at crucial moments in their existence -- birth and death, disease and healing -- helping them deal with traumatic situations. Sometimes you find yourself at their side as they are dying, giving comfort and relief in their last moments.”
“Because of your dedication, you are among the ‘saints next door.’ You are an image of the Church as a ‘field hospital’ that continues to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ, who drew near to and healed people with all kinds of sickness and who stooped down to wash the feet of his disciples. Thank you for your service to humanity!”
He added that nurses and midwives should be “more fully valued”, noting that studies show that investing in them improves a population’s overall health.
“Their professionalism should thus be enhanced by providing suitable scientific, human, psychological and spiritual tools for their training, by improving their working conditions and by guaranteeing their rights, so that they can carry out their service in full dignity,” he wrote.
The pope also praised associations of healthcare workers, and offered “a special word” to midwives, describing their work as “among the most noble of professions” and pleasing to God.
The International Council of Nurses has celebrated International Nurses Day on May 12, the day of Florence Nightingale’s birth, since 1965.
There are more than four million recorded cases of coronavirus worldwide and 286,000 reported deaths as of May 11, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.