What has COVID-19 taught you about disease?
COVID-19 has taught us how a disease can disrupt way of living. For example, in the fight against this pandemic, restrictive measures were adopted by countries to prevent the further spread of the virus. These restrictive measures include lockdown, social distancing, isolation and quarantine. All these have affected our daily activities in such a way that there is reduced face to face interactions. Further, lockdowns, isolation and quarantine have made us realise the importance of the relationships and the interactions that we have in our societies which we always take for granted. On the other hand, Africa Health Organization (AHO) has learnt the power of technology in bridging the gap between these restrictive measures and office operations. For example the use of Zoom Meetings, Google Meet, WhatsApp, Skype and Microsoft Teams have made office work quiet easy during these difficult times.
COVID-19 has also taught us how fast a disease can spread globally within a short period of time. For example, looking at how COVID-19 started in Wuhan in December, 2019 by 19th May, 2020 the global had already 4, 894 098 of coronavirus cases and 320, 180 deaths. As of 9th April, 2021 according to the Worldometer, the globe has 134, 641, 215 coronavirus cases and 2, 917, 995 related deaths. This shows how invasive is the COVID-19 and how it has impacted the whole world within a short space.
How do you think the world needs to prepare for pandemics in the future?
In preparation for pandemics in the future, the world needs to develop resilient health systems, especially to the developing world where the health systems are nearly collapsing yet there are only few cases as compared to the developed countries. For instance, according to Coronavirus in Africa tracker as of 9th April, 2021, Africa has 4, 318, 288 confirmed coronavirus cases from which 346, 085 are active confirmed cases and 114, 937 related deaths while in European countries according to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control as of 9th April, 2021, Europe has 44, 882, 774 coronavirus cases and 971, 595 related deaths.
Learning from developing world’s experience with the pandemic, we have seen how their health care delivery systems are exhausted on which the developing countries health care delivery systems cannot withstand such pressure. There is need to have strong governance in health care, more funding allocation towards health which will increase the number of health workforce, expand infrastructures and improve availability of medications in health facilities. Additionally, the increased health financing will improve research which will help in identification of diseases, developing patterns of such diseases and developing medications/immunizations at an earlier stage before becoming pandemics.
We need strong-willed leaders in health sector at country level. The passion of these leaders will help to develop vibrant health care delivery systems. Well-built governance in the health sector is required in the areas of resource mobilisation, policy development, planning the needs of the population, needs priotisation and resource allocation which will eventually determine the country’s preparedness for the future pandemics. However, there is need to develop the capacity of the health sectors in developing countries. This is evidenced by poor management and planning of the health resources as well as lack of expertise on needs priotisation and policy development. Therefore, developing the lacking skills and expertise will determine the functionality of the health care delivery system.
Improving funding allocation for health care services will strengthen the health care delivery system. This will in return improve availability of health workforce, the equipment and supplies, improve research and infrastructure which will help to develop a resilient health system in readiness to the future pandemics. In the developing countries most of their health financing comes from the domestic sources and others rely in donor funding. This is a challenge as these countries have limited resources that help to accumulate enough funding for health. Further, health financing is greatly affected by the high burden of mortality and morbidity of diseases that these developing countries suffer. For example, HIV/AIDS, cancers, tuberculosis, maternal deaths, neonatal deaths and under-5 deaths just to mention a few. There is need to help these countries build their capacity in mobilizing resources and advocate for increased financial aid in health sectors.
Health workforce is the backbone of every health care delivery system. However, the global suffers from critical shortage of the health workforce with a huge health workforce-patient ratio and the situation is worse in rural areas where more than half of the global population lives. The crisis has affected all countries despite the country’s level of development. However, the situation is more prominent in developing countries. Therefore, for the countries to be able to prepare for the future pandemics they need to invest resources in recruiting enough health professionals, developing new health cadres with short training duration period, improving the motivation strategies so that we are able to retain the ones already in the public health services. Further, there is also need to address the inequities that exists between the rural and urban population in terms of availability of health workforce. This can be achieved by creating robust research on the field so as to identify the demotivating factors and address them appropriately.
Medications are the integral part of the health system. There is need for countries to have enough medications and supplies. For example, we have seen how lack of adequate protective equipment in hospitals has affected the lives of our health workforce. This is more experienced by the developing countries where the resources are already limited and they are unable to contain the pandemic.
Health information systems
There is need for countries to have robust research in the field of health. The research will help the countries to identify emerging health issues of public health significance at the early stage hence reducing the number of casualties. The up to date information of the population health will help the health planners and policy makers in coming up the policies/strategies that are responding to the changing needs of the population.
This entails that the health services that are provided in the health facilities are meeting the needs of the population. Further, the health services should be made accessible and affordable to all citizens as having access to the health services is a fundamental human right. This means all the financial burdens in accessing health care are removed considering that the majority of the global population lives in rural areas where people are living in extreme poverty.
What has COVID-19 taught the scientific community about working together and collaborating to achieve goals?
COVID-19 has taught the scientific community on the power of collaboration in achieving a common goal. We can see how quick they have come up with the COVD-19 immunization to save the globe from the pandemic. Learning from this experience, if such collaborations are nurtured hopefully the globe will be able to overcome future pandemics with minimal casualties. However, there is need to invest resources towards building the capacity of countries especially in the third world where countries are lagging behind in terms of scientific research. The main aim of the capacity building package would be to strengthen the expertise of the scientists, to provide adequate equipment and supplies and to improve their collaborative working skills.
Strengthen the expertise of the scientists
Inadequate expertise and scientists in developing countries is due to the brain drain. More scientists leave their countries looking for greener pasture. This is mainly because of poor working conditions including poor remuneration. Further, fewer people are recruited and trained. This also affects the numbers and availability of local scientists. Therefore, there is need for countries to revise their recruitment policies so that more people are trained. In addition, in order to build the capacity of the existing local scientist, countries need to retrain them through workshops or make partnership with other countries who are doing well in research. These countries will send their experts to the developing countries to mentor their scientists or by doing exchange visits.
Provision of adequate equipment and supplies
Most of the developing countries they lack equipment and supplies to support them to advance laboratory research. This is because they have inadequate funding for health which limit these countries to procure the required equipment. In most cases these equipment are expensive. Therefore, there is need for countries to have the capacity to develop their own equipment. Learning from COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen how the pandemic has brought together engineers in countries including the developing countries to come up with innovative ways of supporting the health care delivery systems. For example, countries developed their own oxygen concentrators, masks and hand sanitizers. Further, there is need for designing low-cost equipment form which these developing countries can be able to buy.
Improving collaborative skills
The collaborative working at international level will be achieved by attaching the local researchers from developing countries with the research institutions from the developed countries. This will not only improve their collaborative working skills but also sharpen their research skills. At national level, this can be attained by bringing together the research scientists from different fields in the country. Additionally, at national level, countries can train their research scientists on collaborative working to help them gain collaboration skills.