Countries have made significant progress in improving capacities to manage health emergencies. Yet recent events, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have demonstrated that no country is fully prepared to deal with a crisis of this scale, speed and severity. While exposing gaps in health security, the COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted limitations in health systems to absorb the shock and increased demands of such an event, including being flexible and agile enough to adapt to disruptions and ensuring the continuity of essential health services.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said in his opening remarks at the 73rd World Health Assembly that:
“COVID-19 is not just a global health emergency, it is a vivid demonstration of the fact that there is no health security without resilient health systems, or without addressing the social, economic, commercial and environmental determinants of health” .
More than ever, this ongoing pandemic illustrates that building, strengthening and maintaining responsive and resilient health systems are critical to prevent, prepare for, early detect, rapidly respond to, and recover from public health emergencies. At the same time, improved preparedness capacities for health security (e.g. disease surveillance, infection prevention and control, rapid response team) contribute to strengthened health systems and enhances health coverage and overall population health and well-being. Moreover, there are determinants that lie outside of the health sector but have critical interdependencies with health systems and affect health security such as climate and environment, water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, electricity, transport, etc. Together, these embody the concept of health systems for health security, aligned with adopting a whole-of-society approach, engaging multi-sectoral stakeholders and facilitating their active participation.
The implementation of health systems that meet the demands imposed by health emergencies have been hampered by several challenges, in particular:
- Lack of a common agreement on what the concept of “Health Systems for Health Security” entails;
- Absence of consensus about the capacities required in health and other relevant sectors to build and support effective and resilient health systems for health security;
- Current national health policies, strategies, plans, and essential packages of health services often only minimally address health security aspects;
- Health security and health system structures and processes often function as disconnected, vertical silos;
- Shortage of experts, leaders and policymakers who can master both health systems and health security aspects and bring both together;
- Lack of research on health systems for health security to fill evidentiary gaps about how investments in health system capacity building can contribute to better long-term health security and vice-versa;
- Insufficient buy-in and engagement of other sectors in playing an active role in health security;
- Gaps in funding for strengthening health systems for health security capacity, as this is often viewed as additional ‘costs’ instead of an investment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased global interest in strengthening health systems for health security, including in high-level discussions such as the G7 and G20 meetings and the United Nations General Assembly side event on Sustainable Preparedness. This is a timely opportunity to leverage the advances made in COVID-19 and prevent a return to a state of unpreparedness as has happened after past emergencies. This includes developing and articulating concrete multisectoral partnership actions to build, strengthen and maintain longer term health systems and health security capacities to detect and respond to severe threats. WHO has been working with partners on developing a health systems for health security framework that would provide alignment on current thinking, and that would help in subsequently defining specific health system capacities that, if invested in and strengthened by countries, will lead to better health security.
The University of Leeds has been a key advocate in supporting global initiatives that enhance national capacities for health systems for health security, and will be piloting the concept through education and project proposals as part of their commitment to global health security. Given the above, the University of Leeds in partnership with the WHO is organizing a workshop on “Health Systems for Health Security”.
The workshop will focus on health systems for health security in the context of COVID-19 and the post pandemic “new normal”. It aims to:
- Introduce the Health Systems for Health Security framework developed by WHO and partner agencies;
- Share country and expert experiences and lessons learnt, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, vis-à-vis strengthening health systems (e.g. the building blocks) for health security and vice-versa.;
- Review and discuss key areas for strengthening health systems for health security capacity in countries.
- A better understanding of the health systems for health security concept and the framework that is being developed;
- Establish a network of experts from countries, academics and partner agencies that would help in taking forward the “Health Systems for Health Security” conceptual framework and who can contribute to finalization of a mapping of health systems capacities for health security.
International workshop organized by the WHO and the University of Leeds