New Delhi | October 18: Strong health systems can better respond to health emergencies, and health is fundamental to economic security. This was clearly demonstrated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. With countries at high risk of reducing health investment to pre-COVID-19 levels, the World Health Organization has asked countries to recognize the importance of investing in health, especially in primary health care.
“There is no economic security without health security. Health and well-being for all, universal health coverage and pandemic preparedness have complementary roles. Investments in primary health care systems are the most effective and equitable approach to achieving these goals,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, speaking at the World Health Summit.
Since 2014, the Southeast Asia region has prioritized strengthening the health workforce as part of the regional flagship priority agendas. The availability of doctors, nurses and midwives increased by over 30% during this period, which played a crucial role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is well established that countries with sustained investment in primary health care—with communities at the center—were able to identify cases and mount an effective public health response to the pandemic more quickly.
“The COVID-19 pandemic was a long-awaited wake-up call for the global community. But the world was not prepared to deal with a pandemic of this magnitude. Preparedness is the key. We need to fill the gaps in health service delivery and health coverage,” the regional director said.
To close the gaps and prepare for the next pandemic, the regional director highlighted the investment and strengthening of the six pillars of health systems; service delivery, health workforce, access to medical products, vaccines and technologies, health information systems and financing supported by political commitment at the highest levels.
The health care needs of all countries are expected to increase in the future due to major changes in population growth, increased life expectancy, and the increasing burden of noncommunicable diseases and injuries.
Economic difficulties due to COVID-19, the ongoing geopolitical crisis, and inflationary pressures have hampered recovery, with decades of progress in health care delivery and poverty reduction stalled or reversed. The majority of the 71 million pushed into extreme poverty by the end of 2020 live in the region.
With history witnessing an increase in the frequency, variety and scale of epidemics, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that decades of investment in health workforce expansion and primary care-oriented health systems have served as a foundation for countries to rapidly strengthening public health actions while maintaining essential health services with minimal disruption and allowing countries to recover more quickly.
“The cost of inaction is far greater than action,” said Dr. Khetrapal Singh, adding, “There is strong and growing evidence that investing in health is a smart investment that pays off in increased economic performance and stability.”
The regional director emphasized the importance of technology adoption and use in health services and pandemic response. Sri Lanka’s health information system was the first in the world to be adapted to facilitate real-time monitoring of COVID-19, and India’s COWIN platform facilitated the delivery of vaccines to over one billion people.
“The pandemic has shown how interconnected the world is and how quickly the virus can be transmitted from one country to another. A country with a weaker health system is a threat to health and prosperity everywhere. Now more than ever we need to ensure that adequately funded and quality healthcare services are provided to all,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh.
Public Information and Advocacy Officer
WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia
Email: [email protected]