COVID-19 exposed the cracks in health care delivery systems whereby inequities were revealed globally. Simultaneously, the crisis created impressive acts of collaboration between various sectors. Furthermore, it also fostered community engagement to address national challenges in all countries across the region.
On Tuesday, July 14, 2020, GHD/EMPHNET launched its third webinar as part of EMPHNET WEBi series titled “COVID-19: An Opportunity for More Equitable Health Systems”.
The webinar was led by three health experts namely: Professor of Public Health, and Director of the WHO Collaborating Center, Department of Primary Care and Public Health, School of Public Health, Imperial College London UK, Prof. Salman Rawaf; Professor and Chair of the Department of Community Health Sciences, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan, Prof. Sameen Siddiqi; and Assistant Professor of Public health and Epidemiology at the Medical School, Khalifa University, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Visiting Professor at the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Basem Al Omari. This webinar was facilitated by both Health Systems Consultant to the WHO, Dr. Mousa Al Ajlouni, and Executive Director, EMPHNET, Dr. Mohannad Al Nsour.
Dr. Mohannad Al Nsour started the session by giving a brief on COVID-19 and introducing the webinar topic. More specifically, he talked about the impact of the COVID-19 global crisis as an exacerbating contributor to health systems’ vulnerability. He also stressed the importance of health systems’ equity, resilience, and preparedness in responding to the pandemic. He then welcomed the audience and presented the speakers, and the second facilitator.
Starting off the presentation sessions, Prof. Salman Rawaf shared Global COVID-19 statistics. He stated that the health systems in some countries responded better than others but overall, the whole world did not respond well to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Rawaf also spoke about what is needed to enhance health system resilience and equity. He ended his presentation by stating that the severity of a second wave of COVID-19 will depend heavily on: people’s behavior, health system preparedness, crisis management, protection of health care workers, epidemiological data, surveillance, testing, contact tracing, and the collaboration of all the stakeholders.
The second presenter, Prof. Sameen Siddiqi, explained the concept of health equity while stating that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. Prof. Siddiqi added that “expecting Pakistan’s chronically underfunded health system to provide first-rate response to a pandemic of the magnitude of COVID-19 is like expecting a severely malnourished child to perform well at school and grow up to be globally competitive.” Prof. Siddiqi ended his presentation by sharing some messages on how health equity issues have been plaguing low and middle income (LMIC) and EMR countries before COVID-19, and how COVID-19 has enhanced inequities in health and socioeconomic sectors with the excessive burden on poorer segments of the population.
The final presenter, Dr. Basem Al Omari compared the COVID-19 global statistics and the statistics from the UAE. He stated that the low fatality rate in UAE is due to the effective response of the health system to the crisis. He introduced what measures have been taken in the UAE, including early and gradual lock-down responses, early national COVID-19 sanitation, availability, and accessibility of testing, as well as the building of field-testing centers. At the end of his presentation, he introduced the timeline of the effective actions taken in the UAE even before the publication of the WHO Europe Regional Office guidelines for controlling COVID-19.
Following these presentations, Dr. Al Nsour ended the session by thanking the speakers, the facilitator, and the audience. He wrapped up the webinar with some key messages. He stated that: countries must respond to COVID-19 while continuing to build stronger health systems, and that health systems strengthening is essential to build resilience and adaptability. He also added that it is essential to invest more in public health, epidemiological surveillance, data management, health registries, and research to bridge the gaps and combat inequity. From another angle, he said that countries must adopt universal health coverage and support social justice, gender equity, and human rights. Finally, COVID-19 actions that strengthened the health system must be sustainable.
205 persons attended the webinar. Three speakers presented the lessons learned about health systems equity within the context of COVID-19 from global, high-income, low- and- middle-income-countries’ perspectives. A discussion session facilitated by Dr. Mousa Al Ajlouni followed the presentations . This discussion session focused on important and relevant questions from the participants.