Could We Have Been More Prepared for the Coronavirus Pandemic?


Responding to the scale and impact of the coronavirus pandemic is a challenge the public health community has not faced in the modern era. While all countries are mounting various levels of response, it is the countries with weak health systems that will likely feel the greatest impact.

As this pandemic has reminded us, the world is more connected than ever. Limited response by one country because of a weak or over-burdened health system puts countries all over the world at risk which is why, for decades, health system strengthening has been at the core of The Task Force for Global Health’s work.

“Health system strengthening is a really broad term. It involves many components from the highest-level national health agencies down to local public health departments, healthcare clinics and even basic access to clean water, medicines and bandages in a community,” said The Task Force’s Head of Health System Strengthening, Patrick O’Carroll, MD, MPH.

“But there are fundamental pillars of a strong health system that are utterly essential for every country, including experienced field epidemiologists, laboratory capacity, information and communications systems, vaccine and drug storage and deployment capability, clinical care, and leadership and management. Collectively, these pillars support a nation’s capacity to protect the health of its population and deal with health threats like COVID-19,” he adds.

While the time for immediate response is now, it is important to also identify the challenges our health systems are facing in this pandemic and continue planning for public health investments in the immediate and long-term to solve those challenges before the next outbreak comes.

“When a country needs its health systems to effectively respond to an urgent threat, it is too late to suddenly build the needed response systems and workforce,” said O’Carroll. “It takes time and steady effort to build real public health capacity. Every time an outbreak like this happens, it is a wake-up call that we need continued investment in health system strengthening, at every level of our government; and we need to invest it wisely so that it will pay off in the long-term.”

With programs ranging from vaccine development, systems for vaccine deployment, surveillance, training of epidemiologists, and getting medical supplies and medicines where they are needed, The Task Force helps countries strengthen their health systems so that countries, especially low- and middle- income countries, can protect the health of their populations today and prepare for the epidemics and pandemics of the future.

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