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Safeguarding Populations Worldwide: The Importance of Building Resilient Health Systems

Resilience in healthcare means having the ability to prepare, adapt and move forward in response to sudden and extreme circumstances affecting health systems.

And if there’s something that the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent supply chain shortages have taught us, it’s that systems for health must incorporate certain qualities in order to properly support individuals, and that systems in many countries continuously fall short.

The pandemic has put health systems under pressure, but more than that, it has highlighted inefficiencies and root problems, with countries unable to access essential medical products, in turn preventing individuals from receiving care, as well as widespread inequality and structural shortcomings.

Resilient healthcare systems ultimately accelerate progress, building a better world with equal access to resources on a global scale. However, there are significant challenges associated with creating and maintaining resilience in healthcare.

The link between successful healthcare systems and supply chains

There’s certainly been no shortage of catastrophic events, in the last decade and beyond, that have shown how deeply unforeseen circumstances, including conflicts, economic crises and epidemics can affect the wellbeing of entire populations.

“Improved resilience can increase the capacity of health systems to cope with unexpected crises, and achieving this is not an easy feat,” comments Shameet Thakkar, founder and managing director Unimed Procurement Services (Unimed).

Procurement companies that, like Unimed, source and deliver emergency medical consumables to those in need, are aware of just how important providing emergency assistance is, and how often it is – unfortunately – required.

“Covid-19 has exacerbated some of the already existing inconsistencies when it comes to equal access to resources, and its repercussions are still severely affecting the industry.

“It goes to show how much we need a stronger supply network. The widespread impact of supply chain shortages and stockouts demonstrates that not all countries are equipped to deal with unexpected surges in demand or shortages in supplies.”

And if one component missing can affect an entire supply chain, exposing just how fragile supply chains are, we should perhaps focus on creating systems for health that can better taking care of people, with prevention – as opposed to treatment – at their core.

What goes into creating resilient health systems?

Crisis response to medical emergencies is complex and multi-faceted, requiring providing an effective response plan, managing public sentiment and minimising social disruption, avoiding spread while maintaining core functions, as well as adapting to new circumstances.

“If we can’t ensure long-term stability of supplies and resources, or adapt quickly should new circumstances arise, we simply can’t respond efficiently to any emergency, and therefore take care of individuals effectively,“ adds Shameet.

As is stated by WHO’s 7 policy recommendations on how to create stronger health systems, governments should start from leveraging the current situation, making necessary investments and changes based on data, and promoting the right environments for research and innovation.

However, countries such as South Africa, where the need for health exceeds capacity, and whose health system presents substantial structural challenges, may have a long way to go.

“Recently, Unimed were approached by a partner of the South African government, as the country was facing a shortage of an essential material needed to produce a lifesaving medical product,” says Shameet.

“Companies like Unimed can help countries that struggle with accessing specific types of medication or products, facilitating the movement of resources.

“And though we are delighted to see the positive impact of each mission in countries like South Africa, our commitment is ultimately to highlight the need to increase healthcare resilience with the ultimate goal of promoting wellbeing for all.”

There’s certainly still doubts regarding how to assess and increase resilience, yet moving from concept to practice requires each country to adopt a realistic strategy for implementation based on individual financial and sociocultural circumstances.

Ultimately, resilience is more than simply a performance goal, as being responsive to the needs of populations, ensuring durability and stability as well as the appropriate distribution of services and resources should be at the core of any healthcare system.

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