Equity and access to health care was the theme of the International Council of Nurses’ 25th Quadrennial Congress, held in Melbourne earlier this year. Speakers referred to links between economic status and a person’s ability to access even basic health care services.
A standout keynote address was delivered by Michel Kazatchkine, United Nations (UN) special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Speaking passionately about the widening gap between the rich and poor, despite increased global wealth (NZNO 2013) he said: “In a world of extraordinary and growing inequalities, poverty and inequality are the world’s greatest killers.” Dr Kazatchkine’s central message was “for the world community to renew its obligation to the poorest and most marginalised.”
During October each year, the UN places the spotlight on poverty, with 17 October designated International Anti-Poverty Day. For the past decade Australia has adopted this theme with a whole week in October dedicated to activities which aim to strengthen public understanding, concern and action, about poverty and hardship in Australia, and around the world. On your behalf, the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation makes an annual donation to support this national anti-poverty awareness raising campaign. For those of you who haven’t already noticed adverts in previous editions of the ANMJ, Anti-Poverty Week is 13-19 October this year. Visit the website for information and possible ideas for activities you could do in your workplace or community. www.antipovertyweek.org.au
Nurses and midwives are not only the largest group within the health care workforce in this country they also have a vast reach into their communities. Just ask around amongst your nursing and midwifery colleagues as to who is active on school committees, in local sporting and social clubs, churches, volunteer organisations, and you’ll see what I mean! We’re everywhere, and we can, and should, use our positions of influence to advocate for a fairer share of resources and better access to essential services, for all people.
Anne-Marie Rafferty, Dean of the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, King’s College, London, had these words to say at the ICN Congress (NZNO 2013): “Where you stand in the social hierarchy is intimately related to your health and the length of your life… A person’s health is largely dependent on how s/he is fed, housed or employed…There’s a strong congruence between a person’s social class and their mental health, with social isolation and loneliness major risk factors for chronic heart disease.” Anne-Marie maintained that: “Justice is about how we distribute the resources we have. Some people are given a lesser entitlement to food and resources, but systems and entitlements can change, through the persistent advocacy of those who care.”
Nurse and midwives are those who care. Every day our professions work amongst people at a most vulnerable point in their lives. Many of these people are poor, socially isolated, marginalised from mainstream material and financial resources.
The World Bank regularly analyses the extent and causes of poverty and inequality and examines the impact of a country’s growth and public policy on these factors. While Australia rates as a high income country by the World Bank, this measure masks two facts: first is that, to our country’s shame, extreme poverty exists in some Indigenous communities; and, second, an increase in businesses closing, leading to widening instances of relative poverty and homelessness.
Kazatchkine describes nurses and midwives as the most compassionate individuals he has ever met. Rafferty says that as a social good, nursing and midwifery are extraordinary resources. We can harness both this compassion and the aspect of our professions as assets in our society, to advocate for policies which achieve both a fairer, more equal society, and break the poverty cycle.
Andrew Leigh, in his recent publication Battlers & Billionaires: The story of inequality in Australia (2013) argues for well evaluated social policies and says: “If we knew everything about how to help the truly disadvantaged, we wouldn’t have multi-generational poverty cycles, wide educational achievement gaps and a growing jail population. If we believe Australia should be more equal, then we need to combine optimism about addressing the problem with realism about the ability of any particular policy to get there.”
The ANMF works with other groups in Australia, such as the Australian Council of Social Services, and, with international organisations, such as the International Council of Nurses, for social policy reform to counter growing inequities and reduce poverty. Anti-poverty week reminds us there is still advocacy work for nurses and midwives to do, to achieve eradication of poverty.
Federal Professional Officer
New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation. 2013. Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand. Report on ICN Congress, 19(5):12-19.
Leigh, A. 2013. Battlers & Billionaires: the story of inequality in Australia. Redback, Australia.