Health Systems Strengthening amidst the COVID-19 third wave: are we executing what we’ve learned?

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Raghad Abdullah Ahmed Tahir, a 20 years old second year medical student in Sudan University of Science and Technology who lives in Khartoum, Sudan. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Coronavirus disease has made it in the top 10 worst epidemics in the last five decades, so it is no surprise to hear that it combines many aspects of the healthcare challenges of the 21st century. For instance, studies have shown that this disease greatly affects the aging population and those suffering from comorbidity. COVID-19 has also caused and aggravated a great deal of mental illnesses, increasing the suicide rates by 2135 to 9570 suicides per year due to unemployment only! With that in mind, it only makes sense that countries around the world are working to reinforce their health systems so it can withstand the pressure of this pandemic. But are we learning from the previous wave?

According to USAID, health systems strengthening (HSS) comprises the strategies, responses, and activities that are designed to sustainably improve country health system performance. If we look at the “health information” function of HSS, we could see that the number of deaths that aren’t due to COVID-19 had increased excessively in 2020 and scientists have no solid reason besides predicting that it’s either due to delayed care, or are simply numbers of undetected COVID-19 deaths. In both cases, insufficient information on the cause of death would jeopardize the work of many organizations which are aiming to improve the health systems by providing evidence-based decisions to low and middle income countries. Unfortunately, no noticeable actions have been taken to tackle this issue till this day.

On the other hand, if we take the “human resources for health” function, we see that countries around the world were lacking in this field. But that wasn’t a long lasting issue as many medical students joined the front lines to fill this shortage. What was really concerning is the increasing number of infected patients followed by accelerated burnouts among the healthcare workers that started from late April 2020. Luckily, the World Health Organization has provided a guide for the frontline workers to cope with stress, and an ongoing interventional study in the US and Canada is aiming to provide data for the stakeholders to reduce such incidences.

Moreover, the “vaccines and technologies” pillar of HSS is greatly improving nowadays as a new era of digitalization is starting and digital health is an option that many countries, even the low income ones, are opting for. Additionally, and as foreign aid is no longer sufficient for the increasing demand on vaccines, some middle income countries such as Mexico, Argentina, and Egypt are working on domestically manufacturing vaccines to cover the needs of their countries and continents.

Given these points, Health Systems’ Strengthening needs an enormous global efforts and attention especially with the ongoing pandemic. For the most part, it’s hard to assume that all the health systems are actively implementing the lessons learned, particularly after hearing that some of them already collapsed due to COVID-19. But it is safe to say that we are still learning, and the sooner we execute what we’ve learned, the less we uptake the damages.

References

Western Governors University. 2021. 21st Century Healthcare Challenges: Medical Trends. Available at: <https://www.wgu.edu/blog/21-century-healthcare-challenges-medical-trends1903.html&gt;

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. COVID-19 and Your Health. Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html&gt;

Kawohl, W. and Nordt, C., 2021. COVID-19, unemployment, and suicide.

Lasalvia, A., Amaddeo, F., Porru, S., Carta, A., Tardivo, S., Bovo, C., Ruggeri, M. and Bonetto, C., 2021. Levels of burn-out among healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and their associated factors: a cross-sectional study in a tertiary hospital of a highly burdened area of north-east Italy.

ScienceDaily. 2021. Study of non-COVID-19 deaths shows 2020 increase in several demographics. Available at: <https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201117133908.htm&gt;

Clinicaltrials.gov. 2021. Reducing Burnout Among Frontline Healthcare Workers During COVID-19 – Full Text View – ClinicalTrials.gov. Available at: <https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04474080&gt;

Google.com. 2021. Available at: <https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://www.emro.who.int/mnh/news/frontline-workers-and-covid-19-coping-with-stress.html&ved=2ahUKEwidm8Wiv5jwAhUOhlwKHZy1AxwQFjAAegQIAxAC&usg=AOvVaw0tgn0x4AqC8NzZqi2V-XkG&gt;

Middle East Eye. 2021. Egypt aspires to become Covid-19 vaccine-making hub for Africa. Available at: <https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egypt-covid-19-vaccine-making-hub-africa&gt;

Raszewski, E., 2021. Argentina, Mexico to produce AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. U.S. Available at: <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-argentina-vaccine/argentina-mexico-to-produce-astrazeneca-covid-19-vaccine-idUSKCN25903P&gt;

About the author

Raghad Abdullah Ahmed Tahir is a 20 years old second year medical student in Sudan University of Science and Technology who lives in Khartoum, Sudan. She is a member of the Medical Students’ International Network – Sudan (MedSIN Sudan), and the current Local Public Health Officer at her university. Raghad is a research and public health enthusiast who published two other articles. She has a strong believe in the power of youth in helping the community and leaving an impact.

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