‘Health’ refers to a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being — it is well- recognized and acknowledged that it is not merely the absence of disease. Furthermore, health being a human right, it is paramount that stakeholders partner and persevere to ensure accessible and affordable healthcare to all. A hard truth is that till date, at least half of the world’s population still does not have access to essential health services. Achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) was one of the targets nations of the world set, when adopting the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 and moving towards UHC requires strengthening health systems in all countries.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic and ever since, nations around the world have been grappling with an unparalleled predicament, a defining crisis of our time. More than ever before, the pandemic has highlighted the fault lines across ecosystems and even the most developed nations found themselves overwhelmed. Now there is clear consensus, that no nation can afford to ignore the gaps in their healthcare models. It is time to act and our efforts need to be collaborative and innovative.
COVID-19 tested the resilience and exposed the fragility of our health models, but alongside, it ushered a silver lining – it inspired healthcare innovations and multi-sectoral collaborations. It threw light on the importance of knowledge-sharing and strengthened the foundations required to improve health systems. An irrefutable definitive is that UHC is a vital goal towards providing equality for all human beings. The way forward lies in collaboration and development of new programmes to fix infrastructural gaps and improve health access and outcomes. Clearly, humanity can save itself only through partnerships and hence we must rise above the conventional silos and boundaries in spirit and action.
In a recent address, Dr Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organization, highlighted how the pandemic has shown humanity at its best – the inspiring acts of compassion and self-sacrifice, breathtaking feats of science and innovation, and heart-warming demonstrations of solidarity. It is vital that we build on these positives, as while the vaccine for the novel coronavirus may solve a big issue, it will certainly not solve the manifold challenges that characterize our healthcare ecosystems. In the new normal or the post pandemic era, whatever we may choose to call it, the subject of health must be at the top of our national agenda. Moreover, mindful of all that the virus taught us, we must tirelessly build a strong and equitable health milieu and be a model for the entire world.
I am confident that this can be achieved, as since the fifties, India is committed to South-South cooperation. Now as we rise from this crisis, a partnership between healthcare federations across borders will provide a robust platform for stronger engagements and collaborative advancements. Federations such as NATHEALTH and Africa Healthcare Federation have the wholehearted support of the government administration and the Ministries of Health in their countries.
India and Africa share common socio-political and cultural contexts including a colonial past, and have been engaging with each other regularly in spheres ranging from trade, culture, education and recently, in healthcare, energy and agricultural sectors. The historical relationship that Africa and India have and the similarities in their health challenges makes it possible to develop a partnership with immense mutual benefits. As a race, we are connected, are genetically related, our cultures are similar, and healthcare is certainly a very important aspect of this deep connection. The pandemic threw a lot of plans out of gear and now we must harness the collective power of our connection to emerge stronger from it.
India and Africa must come together to find improved ways of accessibility, affordability and outcomes. In addition, with the advent of cutting-edge technologies, we must explore how we can use them to catalyze a lot more joint research, including in preventative healthcare. We must ideate to hasten drug discovery and vaccine development for a healthier future.
By 2050, more than 50 per cent of the world’s population will be in Africa and India, and this reiterates the importance for both the healthcare sectors to come together to foster exchange of skills, ideas, strategies, technology and innovation. The need of the hour is to address critical issues and reemphasize the fact that federations and associations across countries must use this time to engage, collaborate and deliberate. Leaders, experts and knowledge partners should come together to forge areas of cooperation. It would be a substantive learning experience to exchange, ideate and plan a larger strategy together.
As we know, the actions that we take today will impact half the world in the times ahead. Therefore, it is the perfect point in time to find solutions to the seemingly intractable barriers– be it of access to quality healthcare, paucity of essential infrastructure for patients, a shortage of skilled workers and also improving patient outcomes. Every responsible healthcare leader must participate and be a part of such discussions to fortify the healthcare agenda, not only for us or for the future generation, but for humanity at large. This will mark an all new beginning in our journey towards a healthier world!.
(The author is President, NATHEALTH & Vice Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals. Views expressed are personal.)