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COVID-19 highlights the need for greater support for global health systems

Research snapshot1

High-income countries with strong health systems have implemented public health responses to protect their populations from the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Concern for countries with weaker systems led the World Health Organization to declare this outbreak a public health emergency of international concern to try to limit the virus from spreading to densely populated countries with weaker health systems. Since the first case of COVID-19 in Africa was confirmed in Egypt, many people in African countries are asking how health systems will cope if COVID-19 affects them.

The author argues that the effectiveness of a health system is complex and goes beyond a country’s financial resources. Although providing international funding and laboratory resources are essential, this will not immediately translate into an effective public health response. The global emergency response must equip those countries with weaker health systems with greater strategic guidance, which covers preparedness, implementation tools, and capacity-building in healthcare systems. Indonesia, for example, has to date not diagnosed any COVID-2019 infections, but commentators have questioned the likelihood of there being none, given Indonesia’s close proximity and travel connections to China. Indonesia’s current diagnostic capability may not be sufficient for a large and geographically diverse island nation.  

Low and middle-income settings with weaker healthcare systems will need more guidance. This applies to every level in the system. Other necessary measures include speeding up bureaucratic processes; increasing capacity of central hospitals with skilled responders; scaling up provision of personal protective equipment and education for healthcare staff so that they are prepared and have the resilience to act as immediate responders; and supporting access to, and best practice management and processing of, diagnostics, contact tracing, and quarantine capability. This outbreak marks a vital moment when countries with expertise need to work together and share information with countries that lack the means to respond effectively.

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Endnotes

1 Keerti Gedela. Covid-19 highlights the need for greater support for global health systems. The BMJ Opinion. Published online February 25, 2020. https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/02/25/keerti-gedela-coronavirus-outbreak-highlights-need-greater-support-global-health-systems/

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COVID-19 highlights the need for greater support for global health systems. Field Exchange 62, April 2020. p49. www.ennonline.net/fex/62/covid19globalhealthsystems

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