On National Nurses Day, We Salute Healing Heroes Working in the Toughest Places Around the World

World Food Program USA
May 5, 2020
Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud

It’s National Nurses week. Starting May 6th (Florence Nightingale’s birthday) and ending May 12th (International Nurses day), it’s a seven-day-long tribute to a global force of health champions working day and night – in some of the toughest conditions imaginable – to help and heal.

Nurses are indispensable. The nature of their work means they are present for our best and worst times, and they understand – intimately – joy and pain, hope and suffering, life and death. There are more than 20 million nurses working across the world, and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) relies on their expertise, care and commitment to keep people healthy.

Here are seven stories of nurses on the front lines. Join us as we recognize, uplift and celebrate them this week and beyond.

A nurse, laughing, is surrounded by a group of her patients.
Photo: WFP/Cecilia Aspe

Kadia works with patients young and old in Mali.

Kadia works with little patients every day at the Reference Health Center in Kalabankaro, Mali. Nurses there fight an uphill battle in the country to make sure underweight kids get the nutrition they need: Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, and food security has been rocked in recent years by recurring disasters like floods, drought, and a military coup that triggered a political and security crisis.

Nurses and midwives make up nearly 50% of the global health workforce, and almost 70% of them are women.

A nurse measures a young girl's height.
Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud

A nurse measures a young girl’s height in Soydabad, Bangladesh. They are crucial in monitoring patients health.

Nurses are essential to WFP’s work in Bangladesh, one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Cyclones, floods and drought perpetuate an intergenerational cycle of undernutrition and poverty.

At local government-run clinics in northern Bangladesh, nurses distribute supplements, monitor nutrition levels and provide hygiene and nutrition education. With help from WFP, they distribute Super Cereal, a supplementary food which boosts the nutritional status of children under two, pregnant and nursing women, and adolescent girls.

The World Health Organization estimates that the world will need an additional 9 million nurses and midwives by the year 2030 for countries like Bangladesh to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.

A nurse in green scrubs is pictured standing outside her house, smilingNzigire Cideka treated patients during an Ebola outbreak.

Nzigire Cideka is a nurse in Goma, North Kivu, DRC. She gets WFP food assistance as part of her role in treating patients during the tenth Ebola outbreak – the worst the country has faced. Nzigire never contracted the disease, but still faces stigma from the community: patients no longer want to visit her for treatment. She’s lost her main source of income as a result, and now struggles to provide for her 10 children.

Nurses are often at the front lines of these kinds of crises, putting themselves at risk every day.

A nurse in a headcover and white scrubs poses for a photograph
Photo: WFP/Abeer Etefa

Makia, a nurse at Aslem hospital in Yemen.

Makia works as a nurse at Aslem Hospital in Yemen. She and her colleagues work in clinics, hospitals and WFP feeding centers across the country, doing whatever they can to keep suffering people from dying every day. The level of hunger in the country is unprecedented: almost 20 million people in the country don’t have enough food, and the rate of child malnutrition is one of the highest in the world.

“We are in a race against time to save these young lives,” Makia says. “Hunger doesn’t differentiate between children. There are some days when we have more children than beds, so we put three on a bed and lay the rest on mattresses on the floor. We work out of our obligation to save lives.”

Nurses play crucial roles in health promotion, disease prevention and delivering primary and community care – even more so in emergencies like the one in Yemen.

A nurse in green scrubs stands in front of a pink wall
Photo: WFP/Abeer Etefa

Fouad Mahdi is a nurse at Al Sabaeen hospital in Sana’a, Yemen

Fouad Mahdi is a nurse in Al Sabaeen hospital in Sana’a, also in Yemen. It’s the largest and most advanced hospital in the country. He sees daily how the ongoing conflict and the blockade are taking a toll on kid’s lives.

“Many of the children that we receive in this hospital are fighting for the last breath. They come exhausted from a long journey that sometimes takes more than 10 hours. Some days, we are so exhausted, especially in the CPR room where children need close monitoring every few minutes. This is the most critical phase for saving the lives of children who are severely malnourished. It breaks my heart to see my people, the people of Yemen, losing their future and children because of lack of food and hunger.”

Now, coronavirus cases have been confirmed in in the country, and with nearly all facets of the country’s infrastructure in shambles, including health care, an outbreak could be devastating. WFP has rolled out prevention measures at its food distribution points to curb the spread, and is scaling up to feed as many as 12 million people per month. Without nurses, none of this would be possible.

nurses prepare sanitation kits at a Cholera Treatment Centre (CTC) in Wajid
Photo: WFP/Karel Prinsloo

Nurses put together sanitation kits at a Cholera Treatment Center (CTC) in Wajid, Somalia.

Nurses often go above and beyond the call of duty – especially when working in the most vulnerable communities. When cholera broke out across Somalia in 2017, many stepped in alongside other health and logistics workers to prepare sanitation kits for internally displaced people who didn’t have access to clean water.

Over the past 20 years, Somalia has suffered through violence, political instability and environmental and economic shocks that have caused acute hunger and malnutrition. UN agencies including WFP have returned to the country – joining forces with the nurses who were there every step of the way.

A young girl in Uganda wearing purple smiles for a camera
Photo: WFP/Davinah Nabirye

Winnie Anegolekori plans to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a nurse.

Winnie Anegolekori is a 10-year-old student at the Kapuat Primary School in Uganda, where WFP works with local healthcare professionals to make sure kids get the nutrition they need. Her father is a nurse at the Iriiri Health Center near her school. Inspired by him, she wants to be a nurse when she grows up and says if she could have any superpower, it would be to heal the sick.

Young people like Winnie are the future of nursing. WFP is working across the globe to get kids like her the nutrition they need, so they can grow up healthy – and ready – to join this vital team of health heroes around the world.

You can support nurses working with WFP on the front lines of the worst hunger crises around the world. Donate today.