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Never mind the credit crunch, nurses should be global citizens

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Mick McKeown on why nurses should forget the credit crunch and reach out to international colleagues

As the UK economy enters a recession, spare a thought for nurses, healthcare workers and patients in the developing world.

Fragile health economies are endangered by retrenchment of aid and development spending. This is all against a backdrop of massive debt to western banks.

Despite much rhetoric from the G8 and impressive community and global campaigning, aid and debt relief are often tied to the privatisation of public services.

A global shortage of nurses has led to richer nations raiding developing countries for staff.

My union, Unison, has been involved in a number of solidarity initiatives. Most notably, nurses in Malawi have been supported to establish a representative body that has resisted the dismantling of services and supported the workforce.

The leader of the Nurses Association of Malawi, Dorothy Ngoma, was a guest at this year’s Unison Health Conference. Her visit has inspired Unison’s nursing and international sectors to work together to explore how to assist colleagues abroad.

This may involve twinning with overseas unions linked to fundraising, or more practical support arranged around staff exchanges or education.

My Unison branch in Liverpool has close links with a UK-based charity, the Abaseen Foundation, which supports a hospital near Peshawar in Pakistan.

While small donations can pay a nurse’s wage for months, support is not just about money – local communities appreciate the sense of solidarity and connection with people living thousands of
miles away.

Getting involved internationally can be hugely interesting and rewarding. Why don’t you see what is happening locally, ask your union branch, or start something up for yourself?

Mick McKeown is principal lecturer at the School of Nursing and Caring Science at the University of Central Lancashire

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