Making health systems resilient to changing needs and threats must be a top priority, says PAHO Director

One of the most critical lessons of the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa was that weak health systems—those that cannot meet people’s health needs in normal times—cannot cope effectively with epidemics or other health emergencies, said the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, at the 4th Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, in Vancouver, Canada.


Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne (source: PAHO)

Countries need to take steps now and invest in strong and resilient health structures to ensure they can effectively respond and deal with the demand should another health crises arise. This requires more that emergency plans being laid out. It means strengthening core aspects of health systems, from human resources and access to medicines, to health information systems and even legal measures to support public health action. Investing in health systems resilience is “considerably more cost-effective” than financing emergency response and is likely to better protect people’s health and well-being in both emergencies and normal times.

In September, health leaders from PAHO member countries endorsed a new Resilient Health Systems framework for efforts to ensure that health systems are more resilient in future health emergencies. To ensure that health systems are prepared for such emergencies, the framework calls for integrated action and increased investments in disaster preparedness, risk reduction, and response; disease surveillance and outbreak management; and health system strengthening and universal health.

Both traditional disaster and disease risks as well as longer-term internal and external risks that affect the ability of health systems to respond well in both normal times and during health emergencies, need to be addressed. This will however not happen overnight, and will require long-term political, social, and economic stability and a broad commitment from countries to invest in health and development.

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