Health systems and global preparedness are not only an investment in the future but “the foundation of our response” to today’s COVID-19 health crisis, the head of the UN’s health agency said on Monday.
“Public health is more than medicine and science and it is bigger than any individual and there is hope that if we invest in health systems…we can bring this virus under control and go forward together to tackle other challenges of our times”, UN World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in a regular press briefing.
‘Seize the opportunity’
Speaking via video conference from self-quarantine, having himself been in recent contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, the symptom-free WHO chief noted that over the weekend cases spiked in some countries in Europe and North America.
“This is another critical moment for action…for leaders to step up…for people to come together for a common purpose”, he said. “Seize the opportunity, it’s not too late”.
He also flagged that where cases are going up exponentially and hospitals reaching capacity “patients and health workers alike” are at risk.
“We need countries to again invest in the basics so that measures can be lifted safely and Governments can hopefully avoid having to take these measures again”, the UN agency chief asserted.
As some countries are putting in place measures to ease the pressure of health systems, he attested that building “stronger systems ensuring quality testing, tracing and treatment measures are all key”.
“WHO will keep working to drive forward science, solutions and solidarity”, the WHO chief concluded.
To understand more about how hospitals can prepare and cope with COVID-19, three guests spoke about how their countries were coping with the pandemic.
The Republic of Korea went from the second highest caseload of coronavirus patients globally to one of the lowest – without having to lock down the country – by drawing on lessons it learned from the 2015 MERS COVID outbreak, according to Yae-Jean Kim, Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunodeficiency Department of Pediatrics, Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine.
In addition to rapid PCR swab testing and rapid isolation, she explained that physicians for the Republic of Korea, among other things, developed “drive-through testing facilities”; had a community treatment centre for milder cases; prepared public hospitals for high-risk communicable diseases; and had private hospitals pick up overload cases.
From South Africa, Mervyn Mer, Principal Specialist at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, University of the Witwatersrand, said they worked within their capacity to reach the greatest number of people.
Since the pandemic struck South Africa months after other countries, they used their time to draw up a protocol to maximize “everything we feasibly could”, including expanding the capacity of existing hospitals as opposed to putting up field hospitals, he said.
Meanwhile, new WHO staff member Marta Lado, an infectious disease specialist and chief medical officer of Partners In Health in Sierra Leone, underscored that the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak had that country how to manage infectious diseases through contact tracing, surveillance, critical care and PPE use.
“One of the most important lessons learned is how we were able to develop a critical care training” that covered monitoring patients vital signs and for shock as well as ventilation and oxygen, she detailed.