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Nursing and the Harvard-LSHTM Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola

Mar 24, 2016

Sarah Gimbel, HAI Senior Technical Advisor  and co-Director of the Center for Global Health Nursing at the University of Washington’s School of Nursing, recently joined 57 nurses from the United States and West Africa to issue a formal critique of the Harvard-LSHTM interdisciplinary panel on the global response to Ebola.  Gimbel and her colleagues, point specifically to the complete lack of representation from the nursing profession on the panel.  The letter was published in the February 19th edition of The Lancet.

The complete letter, penned by Elizabeth Glaser on behalf of the 58 signatories, follows.

On Sunday, the Harvard-LSHTM Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola issued a report in The Lancet suggesting reforms to avoid repetition of a similar disaster in the future. The “interdisciplinary” panel did not see fit to include any members with a background in nursing despite the vital role of our profession in the global response, our knowledge of operational aspects of public health, and the ongoing sacrifices those in nursing have made at the front lines of the outbreak.

Respectfully, who speaks now for the nurses in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, the United States, Europe, and the African Union who cared for those with Ebola? Who speaks for the nurses whose lives were sometimes placed at risk during the outbreak through the hubris of politicians, administrators, and, yes, physicians?

When the policy makers, researchers, and high level clinicians are gone, there will still be nurses serving in remote posts in Central and West Africa, placing their lives at risk for Ebola, HIV, and Tuberculosis for want of masks, goggles, gloves, bleach, or, simply, running water.

If we wish to avoid a scenario similar to the current West African Ebola outbreak, there must be a radical shift in how we approach global health policy. The old, failed hierarchies must be abolished and new voices must enter the discussion. There is no longer any excuse which can justify the omission of our profession. Therefore, to move towards enduring change, members from nursing, the largest single professional health care cadre on the planet, must be included from the very beginning in all policy design and reforms.

Thanks to Sarah and others for advocating for representation of frontline health workers in assessing the response to this global event.

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Health Alliance International began in 1987 as a US-based international solidarity organization committed to supporting the public sector provision of health care for all.  Over 35 years, HAI conducted programs in 17 countries, with flagship programs in Mozambique, Côte d'Ivoire, and Timor-Leste.

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