Anna Lungley

Chief Sustainability Officer, dentsu international

Today, 7 April 2020, is the United Nations World Health Day. DAN's Global Head of Social Impact, Anna Lungley, comments on this year's theme – Celebrating the work of nurses and midwives - as well as the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on global health systems and how our teams are helping to drive public health awareness around the crisis. 

World Health Day is an annual event that focuses on a health problem or issue that deserves the world's attention. This year, we're celebrating the work of nurses and midwives, and reminding world leaders of the critical role they play in keeping the world healthy. But at this point in time, we hardly need reminding. COVID-19 has brought the critical role of nurses and frontline medical staff into the limelight. In the UK, thousands of Britons joined the show of support in clapping for our National Health Service (NHS). But in the UK, we are lucky. While we applaud our doctors and nurses, universal healthcare is something we often take for granted. 

That is not the case everywhere. At least half the global population do not have access to essential health services. Many who do have access, find these services unaffordable and suffer extreme financial hardship. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #3 seeks to address this with a primary target to achieve universal health coverage and financial risk protection. As part of our commitment to Common Ground, Dentsu Aegis Network is focused on driving delivery of this Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). To date, we have delivered 41 impactful health and wellbeing campaigns aligned to SDG #3. Our teams are also responding to the UN Call to Creatives to stop the spread of coronavirus, and Isobar Good is running complementary workshops to help businesses exploring how they can best respond. But there is much more to be done. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is testing the resilience of health systems around the world. As the virus moves into India and Africa, we will see devastating impact to the most poor and vulnerable in society as health systems collapse under the weight of the pandemic. And this will lead to people dying from preventable and treatable diseases. 

COVID-19 could be a disaster for malaria. According to Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria programme, "when healthcare systems get disrupted, malaria becomes the number one killer". In 2018, there were an estimated 228 million cases of malaria worldwide, 93% of them in Africa. Sadly, those most at risk will be pregnant women and children, with a child dying every two minutes from malaria. 

The United Nations records that 55 per cent of countries have fewer than 40 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people. In Africa, that climbs to 98 per cent of countries. And yet without nurses, we cannot achieve national and global targets related to universal health coverage, maternal and child health, infectious or non-communicable diseases. The World Health Organisation believes that investing more in midwives, who are critical for maternal and newborn health, could avert over 80 per cent of all the maternal deaths, stillbirths and neonatal deaths that occur today. 

So today, on World Health Day, let's clap for the NHS. Let's clap for the 12 million nurses and midwives all over the world. And let's call for political leaders the world over to prioritise investment in nurses and midwives. So that everyone, everywhere, gets the healthcare they need.