Another nurse with New Zealand connections has been appointed to a world-leading role with the announcement that Cook Islands nurse Elizabeth Iro is WHO’s new Chief Nurse.
Iro, who has been a nurse and midwife in New Zealand, is currently the Cook Islands Secretary of Health and is the former Cook Islands Chief Nursing Officer and a former president of the Cook Islands Nurses Association.
Her appointment was announced this week in Brisbane by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. It follows Dr Tedros pledging in May this year at the International Council of Nurses (ICN) Congress in Barcelona that he would reinstate a nursing role in his WHO headquarters team in Geneva.
Until recently also based in Geneva was former New Zealand chief nurse Dr Frances Hughes, who was chief executive of ICN from early 2016 until August this year. Also in Europe is New Zealand midwife Dr Sally Pairman who in January this year was appointed the chief executive of the International Confederation of Midwives.
On accepting the position, Iro said she was very honoured and humbled by the announcement.
“I think this appointment is going to be raising the profile of nursing and midwifery and I anticipate it will be encouraging and enabling for nurse to work to their full potential if countries are to achieve universal health coverage.”
Iro has more than 30 years’ experience in public health in the Cook Islands and New Zealand. For the first 25 years of her career she was a staff nurse, midwife and charge midwife at hospitals in the Cook Islands and New Zealand.
As president of the Cook Island Nurses Association in 2005, she helped to negotiate a salary increase for the country’s then-78 nurses after the nurses threatened a nationwide strike.
The nurse leader, who has master’s degrees in business administration and health science, went on to become the Chief Nursing Officer. In 2012 she became the first nurse to head the Cook Islands Ministry of Health when she became Secretary of Health.
As Secretary of Health she has implemented health reforms, including developing the country’s National Health Roadmap 2017-2036, the National Health Strategic Plan 2017-2021, and the Health Clinical Workforce Plan. In addition, she has helped to develop the Cook Islands Fellowship in General Practice, a postgraduate training fellowship for doctors working in the Cook Islands.
ICN president Annette Kennedy said ICN was “delighted” that Dr Tedros was true to his word and had reinstated the chief nurse role at WHO (after a seven-year gap). “ICN has met with Dr Tedros several times in the past few months to lobby for this position. He clearly recognises the value of nurses and has followed through on his promises.”
“I am thrilled to welcome Ms Iro to our team as WHO’s Chief Nursing Officer,” said Dr Tedros. “Nurses play a critical role not only in delivering healthcare to millions around the world, but also in transforming health policies, promoting health in communities, and supporting patients and families. Nurses are central to achieving universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. Ms Iro will keep that perspective front and centre at WHO.”
Kennedy said that ICN would continue to work closely with WHO to ensure that nurses had a chair at the policy-making table. “ICN looks forward to working closely with the WHO Chief Nurse and Director-General to support their work and represent the global nursing voice,” she said.
Iro’s appointment is the latest addition to the senior leadership team Dr Tedros announced last week, which includes representatives from every WHO region and is 60% women. It came at the 68th session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, which took place from 9 to 13 October 2017 in Brisbane.
Elizabeth Iro is married with three children.
*The article was revised on October 10 2017.