Nursing, as a discipline focused on the care of people, has always contemplated the ethical requirements linked to its work. A key point in the regulation of these requirements occurred when in 1953 the International Council of Nurses (ICN) adopted an International Code of Ethics for the first time.
The International Council of Nursing Code of Ethics is not a code of conduct, but it can serve as a framework for nursing practice and ethical decision-making. It is “a statement of the values, professional responsibilities, and areas of accountability at the professional level of nurses and nursing students.”
This allows sharing, in different countries and contexts, similar duties, responsibilities and professional judgments. The local code must be built in combination with the laws, regulations and professional standards that govern the practice of nursing in each country.
The values and obligations expressed in this code apply to all nurses in all settings, roles and scopes of practice, internationally.
A new time for nursing
The ways of caring have been changing at the same time that society did. In 2021 this Code underwent its last update to incorporate care for the environment and the planet.
In his chapter 4 Nurses and global health It can be seen that we are facing a new time for nursing, in which care already transcends the individual, the family and the community. Thus, a health model based on prevention, the empowerment of people and community health is promoted. At the same time, nurses contribute to the health of the population by achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) promoted by the United Nations Organization.
Nurses are aware of the importance of the social determinants of health and not exclusively of the biological ones. That is why they collaborate to conserve, support and protect the natural environment and are aware of the consequences of environmental degradation for health, such as climate change.
Similarly, they advocate for initiatives that reduce practices harmful to the environment in order to promote health and well-being. In addition to collaborating with other social and health professions and with the public to defend the principles of justice, they also promote responsibility in human rights, equity and impartiality, and promote the public good and the health of the planet.
How can nurses ethically care for global health?
The circular economy offers a new model of more sustainable economic development for the planet. It consists of a model of production and consumption that involves sharing, renting, reusing, repairing, renewing, and recycling existing materials and products whenever possible. The objective is to create added value and extend its life cycle.
As in other sectors, health consumes a large amount of resources such as water, energy, metals and chemical compounds. In addition, it generates a significant volume of waste due to the widespread use of single-use products, such as plastics, and due to the accumulation of unused, expired or obsolete materials and equipment.
This single-use mentality has been, and up to now, a guarantee factor linked to greater clinical safety in the health sector. This favors a cycle of use and consumption perpetuated by companies that provide services. Many devices are so cheap and the investment required to reuse them is so high that their reuse is not economically viable. The manufacture of single-use health products means that hospitals buy more.
Given these challenges, implementing circular economy strategies is considered a great opportunity for the health sector to become more sustainable and resilient. This way you gain efficiency, save costs and reduce your environmental impacts and carbon footprint.
This, from the point of view of nursing, could be understood as care taking care.
From the Project “University Education for Health and Sustainability” (EDUSAS), financed by the Development Cooperation Office of the University of Seville, a formative work has been carried out to raise awareness by an economist and three nurses on the contribution from the circular economy to the Sustainable Development Goals. It pays special attention to responsible production and consumption and its link with health and gender.
In this way, clear examples of strategies implemented in the field of circular economy have been provided from the field of health.
Some initiatives are based on the purchase and sale of remanufactured medical equipment. That is, with some initial factory defect or after a long period of time on display and without use, always ensuring quality standards to guarantee the safety of people.
Hiring circular suppliers. For example, more sustainable means of transporting patients or biological samples, or strengthening the digital transformation of healthcare. This includes as an essential part public-private collaboration in terms of digital advances.
In short, this improves the quality of care while reducing the waste of resources, travel, and excessive testing in public and private settings. And it contributes to achieving the goals proposed by the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, as well as environmental sustainability and the protection of human health.
Let’s continue working for ethical, sustainable and circular nursing care.