Partnerships Between Public And Private Health Needed To Achieve Universal Heatlh Coverage

The COVID-19 pandemic did not so much create cracks in healthcare systems around the world, as it exposed weaknesses in them, participants at the Geneva Health Forum said Wednesday at a session on how health systems have fared during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edward Kelley, Director of Integrated Health Services Universal Health Coverage and Life Course, WHO.

“We have found fragility everywhere,” said Edward Kelley, Director of Integrated Health Services Universal Health Coverage and Life Course, WHO, during the session entitled Health Systems Resilience in a Pandemic Crisis, co-sponsored by the World Economic Forum.

In order to strengthen healthcare systems so they can withstand the brunt of health emergencies, more private-public cooperation is critical, said Kelley and other participants, which also included a representative of India’s health ministry and the pharma sector.

For a long time, universal health coverage (UHC) has been seen as a primarily public sector function. This, however, should not be the case, according to Kelley: “There is no way we will get to where we need to be by making this anything but a public and private partnership.”

Shri Rajesh Bhushan, India’s Secretary of Health & Family Welfare, cited India’s experience in the pandemic, which saw unprecedented public-private health sector cooperation, while also keeping death rates low.

“For the first time ever, various state governments and the Union [central] Government closely coordinated with the private sector healthcare providers to repurpose their ICU, oxygen and isolation beds, to suit the needs of COVID,” said India’s Secretary of Health & Family Welfare, Shri Rajesh Bhushan.

Shri Rajesh Bhushan, Secretary of Health & Family Welfare, India.

In fact, while India has seen 8.8 million reported COVID cases, that is still only about 25% as many, per capita, as the US. And, per capita, India has recorded half as many deaths.

Whereas the global mortality rate from people with confirmed cases of COVID hovers around 2.46%, the mortality rate in India is 1.48%. This translates to 2.5 deaths per million population, which is about 10 times less than the US, “and quite a bit less than other countries in Europe like Belgium,” added Bhushan.

Digital Care Allowed for Better Resource Prioritization

The partnership space should not only cater for physical modes of healthcare provision. Rather, it needs to extend to the digital or virtual approaches of dispensing care. AstraZeneca executive vice president, Iskra Reic, described how the multinational pharmaceutical company partnered with the UK’s NHS during the COVID pandemic to create what is dubbed a ‘virtual ward’ for COVID patients.

This digital solution allowed vulnerable and at-risk patients to get care without physical interaction with a physician.

Reic, who oversees operations in Europe and Canada, said that the digital solution has eased the workload for physicians, in addition to easing pressure on the healthcare system and patient traffic, something which in and of itself can be a risk factor for COVID-19 transmission.

“It has helped physicians prioritize, and really focus their time and effort on those who are at the highest risk.”

Image Credits: Geneva Health Forum.

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