Press Release

Global Nurses United Leaders Demand World Health Organization Strengthen Its Guidance on Prevention and Control of Coronavirus

2019-nCoV rendering
2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Leaders of an international federation of nurse and health care worker unions from 28 countries, Global Nurses United (GNU), sent a letter today to the World Health Organization, demanding that WHO strengthen its interim guidance on infection prevention and control of the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV.

Without sufficient preparation, the potential surge in patients seeking care could overwhelm more health care facilities, putting patients, their families, nurses, and other health care staff at even greater risk, the letter stated. At least 14 health care workers have been infected with 2019-nCoV in China. Dr. Liang Wudong died after treating patients who had coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan, China.

The letter to Dr. Tedros Adhannom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, demands that WHO should:

  1. call for airborne precautions to be implemented when health care workers are caring for patients with possible or known 2019-nCoV infections.
  2. explicitly call on health care employers to communicate clearly and transparently with nurses and other health care staff about 2019-nCoV cases and potential occupational exposure.

“Workers have a fundamental right to a safe and healthy workplace,” states the letter to WHO. “It is unacceptable for an employer to hide information from employees about their possible or known exposure to any hazard, including 2019-nCoV.”

Nurses and other health care workers are at the heart of patient care and essential to the response to 2019-nCoV.

The letter was signed by leaders of the nurses’ unions in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Curaçao, Dominican Republic, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Ireland, Kenya, Paraguay, the Philippines, Portugal, Rwanda, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Uganda, the United States, and Uruguay.

“SARS has definitely taught us that protecting the public in the event of a potential pandemic begins with protecting health care workers,” said Linda Silas, RN and president, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, which is a GNU member. “Nursing unions are taking the lead in sharing information with their members and working with other unions and government agencies to protect front-line healthcare workers and to contain the spread of the disease."

“Public health and safety are the highest priorities for nurses and other health care workers,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of National Nurses United, a founding affiliate of GNU. “Hospitals must embrace the precautionary principle and ensure that health care workers have optimal personal protective equipment and training to protect the health of the public, our patients, and ourselves.”

Read the full letter here.