A new World Bank report that focuses on the junction points between healthcare systems, emergency management, and quality infrastructure identifies five pillars and objectives to develop a resilient healthcare system.
Healthcare resilience is the ability for health sector agents and organizations to mitigate, decrease, manage and rapidly recover from crises, including pandemics, natural disasters and other significant shocks.
The first pillar is the foundation: Health systems that effectively manage daily demand are more resilient to shocks. Water, electricity, transport, communication and digital technologies are essential to guarantee adequate treatment capacity, equal access to healthcare and functional supply chains. Moreover, the use of digital information makes it possible to assess demand for various health services to envisage future challenges.
The second pillar concerns individual healthcare facilities, managing demand capacity and shock readiness, which require sufficient equipment, funding, skilled personnel, professional management and operational procedures.
Planning effectively and maintaining crucial inventories can help to alleviate the pressure on the health system’s capacity and enhance patient care quality during any surge or catastrophe.
The third pillar emphasizes the need for healthcare systems to develop strategies to increase surge capacity, including service delivery modalities and contingency plans to prioritize and ensure crucial supply chains.
This requires communication and coordination among healthcare entities to manage demand at such times so that they can, for example, deliver healthcare services to remote areas through mobile clinics or telemedicine while integrating data-driven methods to detect requirements.
The fourth pillar addresses the need for an integrated emergency response with national disaster management systems, the military, civil protection agencies and the community, achieved by establishing interagency communication channels as a preventative measure before calamities and constructing effective early warning systems.
Finally, the fifth pillar calls for lifeline infrastructure to support robust healthcare services, such as water and electricity supply, transportation and digitalization. Such facilities and their maintenance systems can be improved by using new technologies and boosting cybersecurity.
The report cautions that if these key pillars and priorities are not considered and existing inadequacies are not addressed, future disasters and climatic and demographic changes will further increase pressures on health care systems worldwide.
Many low-income countries were suffering from a shortage of healthcare services long before COVID-19. New diseases that evolve are among the challenges which will put a burden on healthcare systems. However, technology can be of assistance here; for example, digitalization can provide medical consultations and new programs can help to detect and analyze outbreaks. Artificial intelligence can provide information and communication technologies via eHealth and mobile health.
Much has been said in the media about the difficulties that many countries worldwide endured during the pandemic. Saudi Arabia, however, incorporated all these pillars and priorities into its healthcare system before and during the pandemic. It is regarded as one of the leading countries in taking extraordinary strategic preventive measures across all sectors to safeguard its population from COVID-19.
This was accomplished through various techniques, including global surveillance, raising awareness, tracing and screening, mass lockdown, suspension of travel and education, social distancing and immunizations. Furthermore, as holder of the G20 Presidency last year, Saudi Arabia pledged $500 million to international organizations to fund global efforts to combat the COVID-19 virus.
Healthcare systems worldwide are on the front line of medical emergencies, therefore such pillars can help them prepare for any unanticipated catastrophes.
• Dr. May Alobaidy is a strategic expert. She was the first Saudi woman to be appointed adviser to a minister and has worked as a senior adviser to four ministers, in addition to her role as CEO of the Strategic and International Partnerships and Initiatives Center. Twitter: @mayalobaidy