The past two years have been a wake-up call for global health policy makers. While it’s still unclear the full ramifications COVID-19 will have across the world, our Palladium health leaders share their predictions on what we can expect to see in the global health sector over the next 24 months as a result of the pandemic.
Pandemic Preparedness and Response
First, and not at all surprisingly, Pandemic Preparedness and Response (PPR), including vaccinating the global population will be a priority for governments.
By 2019, global leaders had become complacent on the threat of infectious diseases, overly confident in their response plans, and overly cautious in assessing the threat. But in the next two years, we can expect the global health community to be far more reactive and invest heavily in PPR. As Dr Farley Cleghorn, Palladium’s Chief Medical Officer adds, “This is how humans work: they don’t prepare for something, then a disaster happens, then there is flurry of activity that should have happened before the disaster struck.”
While governments ramp up PPR plans, however, they must not lose sight of other underlying issues. Over the past two years we have lost progress in health development, especially in areas such as non-communicable diseases and other communicable diseases in lower-income countries, which burden our health systems globally and disproportionately affect the world’s poorest people.
Collaboration and Global Leadership
Second, we will hopefully see greater global collaboration. Cleghorn is hopeful that all these phenomena “converge towards global collaboration.”
He points to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) as an example of an effective global health response, but also highlights failures (like the Ebola response) that lead him to take a pragmatic stance towards a global plan for PPR. “From the US perspective, a PEPFAR type investment in Global Health Security is coming, and I expect a much more resourced and articulated approach in the multilateral sphere,” he says.
In other words, when it came to COVID-19 there was no unified plan for a response.
Jabulani Nyenwa, Palladium’s lead on the UK Support for Health (LAFIYA) health program in Nigeria, argues that the intention to collaborate across borders is there, but not the structure. “It will take the right leaders,” he says.
The next 24 months, and the impact of initiatives such as COVAX, will show if this intention comes to fruition or if countries continue to take a nationalistic approach to PPR.”
Nyenwa hopes the next two years will see an uptake in community-based PPR, involving all stakeholders in the response planning, including local, regional, and national governments. He also sees this period as an opportunity for countries to recognise the flaws in their health systems as revealed by the pandemic. 2018 was the first in five years in which global spending on health grew slower than GDP, symptomatic of the fact that governments had de-prioritised health, leaving us less prepared for the ensuing pandemic.
“We now have an opportunity to leverage the lessons learnt from COVID-19 response to improve health systems,” Nyenwa notes.
Ultimately, Nyenwa argues that the pandemic is a wake-up call for our leaders to go back to the Alma Ata declaration, which identifies primary health care as the key to the attainment of the goal of Health for All. Moving forward, we need to go back to basics and invest in a strong public health foundation: primary and community health systems.
Meeting Sustainable Development Goals
Finally, beyond PPR, progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has regressed considerably because of the pandemic. Palladium’s Former EMEA Health Director, Luke Boddam-Whetham, warns that the next 24 months will bring a bigger burden of morbidity as many people were unable to access healthcare and have let illnesses go unchecked.
As we move forward, he argues, there will likely be a higher emphasis from governments on Non-Communicable Disease response, ailments which cause 70 percent of deaths globally, which have been overshadowed by COVID-19. A silver lining for Boddam-Whetham is the uptake in telemedicine as widespread adoption has the potential to increase accessibility to health services and reduce the burden on health centres.
Governments are now at a crucial crossroads: they must take COVID-19 as an opportunity to improve and build health systems globally or fall back into the pre-pandemic complacency until the next pandemic occurs.
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