Making our Health Systems Resilient in Times of Crises

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Daniel Gizaw, a 22-year-old 5th year medical student at Addis Ababa University and resides in Ethiopia. He 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 writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Chronic diseases rarely come to mind when one discusses improving health systems in this COVID-19 era.  According to the WHO, more than 15 million people die from chronic diseases between ages 30-69 each year.

While healthcare institutions had problems in their handling of chronic diseases before, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem at an alarming rate. Those with chronic diseases now faced a double threat: increased susceptibility to severe Covid-19 illness and reduced access to health systems.

With all health systems focused on the immediate threat, patients with chronic disease have taken a backseat as hospitals overflow with Covid-19 patients. In addition, the disruption of the global supply-transportation chains caused by the pandemic meant shortages of medications for patients with chronic disease. All these beg the question: how can we ensure this doesn’t happen during the next global crisis?  Health systems need major restructuring to withstand sudden influx of patients without abandoning those that need consistent follow-up. To build a resilient health system, we must strengthen the six building blocks for health systems according to WHO: leadership, service delivery, financing, health workforce, medical products, and health information systems.

While strong leadership, finance, and medical supplies are building blocks that need to be worked on by governments and international organizations, medical students can be directly involved in making health systems resilient to future crises through the other 3 building blocks. Starting from the health information system, medical students can play a vital role in the health surveillance system.

They can be trained properly and deployed in times of health crises to gather necessary data and information from the public. This can be accomplished by enrolling them in capacity-building trainings focused on case-definitions, identification, data analysis, and reporting. Properly trained, the health system will have dedicated teams of medical students ready to be deployed.

Medical students can also help in human resources in similar ways by serving as members of rapid response teams who can give first-aid assistance or detect new cases. To be successful, they must take part in emergency medicine and disaster preparedness trainings that can be given by medical doctors. Finally, medical students can strengthen health systems through service delivery.

Effective service delivery has two main components: preventive and curative services. Preventive measures include health education, vaccination, and raising awareness on hygiene principles and self-care. This is where medical students can play a big role by actively participating in and leading health awareness campaigns that can help prevent another pandemic or arrest it before it causes global catastrophe.

By organizing coordinated health campaigns through different online and offline platforms and periodic screenings among the community, they not only help the community during crises but also help in reducing the incidence of chronic diseases as most of them can be prevented with healthy lifestyle and regular check-ups.

Medical students are the untapped resources that our health systems need and the current pandemic has revealed the different ways they can improve it. After all, one doesn’t need to graduate to bring change.

About the author

Daniel Gizaw is a 22-year-old 5th year medical student at Addis Ababa University and resides in Ethiopia. He is passionate about Public Health and SRHR Topics. He likes to spend his free time volunteering at different youth organizations and reading Sci-Fi fictions.

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