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The double burden of dealing with existing infectious diseases, non-infectious diseases and now COVID-19 is a huge threat to achieving health security and Universal Health Coverage.

There is an urgent need to invest in preparedness for future pandemics and management of existing disease burdens.

Health Security is defined as the ability to address healthcare through policies and strategies that aim to minimize or eliminate public health threats. It involves securing sufficient healthcare supplies such as medical equipment and pharmaceutical products in order to minimize vulnerability to dangerous diseases and life threatening conditions.

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is the process of ensuring people have access to essential healthcare services without experiencing financial hardship as a result of medical expenses. National governments and development partners have always been responsible for providing affordable, quality healthcare products and services while making sure people are not driven to poverty.

Global public health initiatives such as the Global Fund have been set up to deal with existing disease burdens and help countries achieve their goal to provide Universal Health Coverage but the progress has been quite slow.  Most nations have not yet managed to build resilient healthcare systems and ensure health security for their citizens. Some of the main reasons for this are;

  • Governments are not channeling enough financial resources towards the health sector. They allocate a very small percentage of the national budget to healthcare.
  • Existing issues that prevent remote/developing areas from accessing quality healthcare. This includes poor governance and corruption
  • Low political commitment to Universal Health Coverage. For instance, the UHC pilot program in Kenya is already experiencing major challenges that could lead to eventual failure.
  • Inefficient supply chain systems that have made it difficult to access essential healthcare supplies in low and middle-income countries.

A Case for Preparedness

Communicable/infectious diseases contribute to nearly 3 million annual deaths and over time, billions of people have been affected in one way or another. Diarrheal diseases, respiratory tract infections, malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis have been the top most causes of death in developing countries and now we have COVID-19, which is global pandemic affecting both developed and developing countries.

Non-communicable/non-infectious diseases such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension and chronic respiratory diseases contribute to about 41 million annual deaths globally. A burden that requires a lot of financial and medical resources from governments and key stakeholders in healthcare.

The double burden of dealing with existing infectious diseases, non-infectious diseases and now COVID-19 is a huge threat in achieving health security and Universal Health Coverage. Healthcare systems all over the world have diverted resources towards dealing with the pandemic yet there is still need to provide essential healthcare supplies to those suffering from other health conditions.

To make matters worse, COVID-19 fatality rates in most countries are greatly associated with existing disease burdens. Most severe patient cases who died from the virus had other underlying health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. This poses a major threat to the global health security.

The unpredictability of such pandemics makes the case for resource mobilization and preparedness more imperative. They are estimated to occur every 3 or 4 decades and as we have seen, their social and economic impacts are devastating.

We need to Strengthen our Fragile Healthcare Systems 

With the existence of other disease burdens and unpredictable pandemics, reinforcing preparedness has become a major priority for governments and all key stakeholders in the healthcare system.  Everybody needs to be protected and now more than ever, health security should be achieved with an aim to provide Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

The main problems currently faced by our healthcare systems include;

  • Limited financial resources from national governments.
  • Lack of reliable sources of data on disease burdens and demand for essential healthcare products
  • Inefficient supply chain management processes that has resulted in shortages of essential healthcare products. The supply of medicine has been greatly affected since the global pandemic began.

The whole world is now in need of resilient healthcare systems in order to be better prepared to prevent more deaths from both communicable and non-communicable diseases. This can only be done through;

  • Mobilizing financial resources from national governments, donors and financial institutions towards strengthening healthcare system.
  • Collaborative efforts between national governments, healthcare stakeholders and research institutions to assist in developing a strategic approach towards the prevention of more deaths as a result of disease burdens and pandemics.
  • Building resilient supply chain systems to ensure constant supply of essential healthcare products. This will require a lot of transparency and accountability in the procurement processes
  • A multi-sectoral approach towards dealing with preventive measures. For example, the Ministry of Health to work closely with institutions responsible for water and sanitation in order to prevent future cholera outbreaks.

Another pandemic may be experienced in the not-so-distant future and it is predicted that the long term effects of taking no action will be immense. 

Reimagining health security is an important element in the journey towards achieving health security and Universal Health Coverage (UHC). It will involve mobilizing sustainable resources mentioned above for future disease burden preparedness and mitigation of health risks. It requires interventions and collaborative efforts from both health and non-health institutions, a goal the HSCI initiative intends to achieve.

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