This is not our first time. We have been hit by HIV, various coronaviruses like SARS, MERS, Zika, Ebola. And now COVID-19 looks like it is here to stay. In the age of globalisation, a crisis like this can no longer be confined. This leads us to a complex flyover where global health security merges with health equality and health as a human right.
A medical team in a health facility which is supported by Cordaid in the Central African Republic. Photo by Mickael Franci/Cordaid
That is why the topic of health should be approached globally and holistically. We need to work together with some of the world’s most vulnerable communities so they can become healthy inhabitants of our global village.
Take it seriously
We need to be prepared for outbreaks of infectious diseases that can explode into pandemic proportions. The best way to stay prepared is by taking health for all seriously and by making the connection between universal health coverage and global health security.
Anyone could get infected by COVID-19. But the levels of exposure and lack of resilience to the disease vary greatly in different parts of the world.
How? One, by looking at it holistically, as a system. Two, by putting the community at the heart of all health-related efforts. And three, by building a robust and resilient health system that is accessible, affordable and available to everyone.
Community is key
Health for all and awareness about health rights should emerge from within the community, supported by collaborations and actions in the private sector, universities, government, international communities and a willingness to prioritize health at a global level.
A strong health system prevents emergencies, or will at least mitigate its effects, thanks to its ability to respond effectively and timely. Also, an informed and active community is essential for preventive measures to succeed.
A virus does not discriminate, right?
Anyone could get infected by COVID-19. But the levels of exposure and lack of resilience to the disease vary greatly in different parts of the world. We work with some of the most vulnerable communities imaginable, places shattered by long-lasting conflicts, with hardly any law and order and access to fundamental needs like water, healthcare and education.
If the new coronavirus hits poor neighbourhoods in, for instance, Kinshasa, it is likely to spread like wildfire.
Think about it: a refugee camp with only a few health workers among thousands of people in very unhealthy conditions, with a lack of water taps and soap or any available space to even allow social distancing to be possible, which is seen by many as the most effective prevention strategy.
Mungu atusaidie, may God help us
Also, think about densely populated areas, unplanned urban spaces and slums. If the new coronavirus hits poor neighbourhoods in, for instance, Kinshasa, it is likely to spread like wildfire. In such fragile countries, where systems are weak or non-existent, people will be left with no other option than to pray and hope. “Mungu atusaidie”, as they say in Kiswahili. “May God help us”.
Health should be a global priority, as it is a prerequisite to global prosperity and peace.
On top of all that, we must not forget that in many of these countries children are still dying from preventable diseases, women and girls are denied sexual and reproductive health services and people cannot have access to basic healthcare because it is too far away, too expensive or too inadequate. People and their health systems are already burdened with many persistent problems, even before this coronavirus appeared to the scene to rub some salt into the wounds of already vulnerable societies.
Keep working on Universal Health Coverage
Health should be a global priority, as it is a prerequisite to global prosperity and peace. Yet, our world seems far away from comprehending the importance of Universal Health Coverage. The gap between the current investment in healthcare and the investment needed to avoid another global health crisis is even widening. With this new threat storming at us like an avalanche, we, together with colleagues and communities all around the world, are bracing ourselves for what is coming. We will keep working towards our vision of health for all. Now and in the future.
This blog is written by Jos Dusseljee (Health Expert) and Mahamuda Rahman (Communication Officer) at Cordaid.