Prioritise humanity in Covid vaccine, UHC rollout plans

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Ideas & Debate

Prioritise humanity in Covid vaccine, UHC rollout plans


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Healthcare staff prepares to administer a Covid-19 vaccine. FILE PHOTO | AFP

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Summary

  • With an estimated more than 123 million reported infections and 2.7 million recorded deaths globally as of March 21, Covid-19 has shaken the core of our health, social and economic systems.
  • It has forced us to reflect on the things we truly hold dear, such as freedom of movement and association without fear of contracting a potentially fatal disease.

One year after the Covid-19 pandemic began to sweep across the world, leaving in its wake death and destruction unlike anything witnessed on such a grand scale in modern times, one undisputed fact we have learned about this global outbreak is that it is more than a health crisis: it is a crisis of humanity.

With an estimated more than 123 million reported infections and 2.7 million recorded deaths globally as of March 21, Covid-19 has shaken the core of our health, social and economic systems. It has forced us to reflect on the things we truly hold dear, such as freedom of movement and association without fear of contracting a potentially fatal disease, and brought out both the best, and the worst in humanity.

While on one hand we have seen people rally around each other to provide support in multiple forms, on the other hand, we have witnessed the depravity of human nature in the name of self-preservation. Indeed, Covid-19 has shown us that the human spirit is, at its core, kind; but it can also be remarkably self-seeking.

Now as the world holds its collective breath, still unsure of what a post-pandemic future looks like even with rising hope being delivered through the Covid-19 vaccine, we are once again reminded of the urgent need for us to tap into our shared humanity to ensure that the critical vaccine is made available to all, beginning with those most at risk.

Ensuring equity in the Covid-19 vaccine distribution is more than a question of systems, established infrastructure and economic power — although sadly, these so far seem to determine who gets the vaccine first. But the pandemic, and the race to stop it, are forcing us to look beyond the reasons that usually relegate lower- and middle-income countries to being last in line to receive critical vaccines and other life-saving health resources.

As was discussed during the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) 2021, where discussions on universal health coverage (UHC) and the pandemic took centre stage, Covid-19 is forcing us to address the challenges that have created roadblocks to achieving health for all, and to look at health through the lens of humanity. Humanity, after all, sits at the heart of achieving UHC, whose pillars include population (who is covered); services (which services are covered and at what quality); and cost (how much of the cost is covered). It is this same humanity that should guide as us we prepare to receive the vaccine and more broadly, to achieve UHC.

No life should be deemed worth more or less than the other, regardless of age, projected productivity potential, social or economic status, or how far they live from the nearest health facility.

It is encouraging to both witness and participate in the extraordinary collaborative efforts toward fast-tracked innovation and multi-stakeholder collaboration aimed at delivering the Covid-19 vaccine to as many people as possible within the shortest time possible. This resolve, this willingness to jointly commit to a singular goal, indicates that achieving UHC is not a pipe dream.

Now, perhaps more than ever before, the world is reminded of the urgency with which we must provide affordable and accessible healthcare to all, at the same time. We are also reminded of the importance of a people-centred approach to developing and rolling out the vaccine, and ultimately achieving UHC post-Covid-19.

Achieving UHC is not just about the physical infrastructure, financial might and human resources required to attend to populations, which is what we almost always speak about. These are important of course, but there is more to be considered in the way of a people-centred approach to delivering UHC. Alongside strengthening health systems and optimising their efficiency, we should focus on delivering people-centric care; care that truly matters not just to the patients it is given to, but to those who provide it and to society as a whole.

To build a safer, healthier future for all, we must put people at the centre of our health systems, beginning with health workers at all levels and trickling down to the people they care for.

UHC will not be achieved by fancy technology and complex frameworks; it will be achieved through people, through the political will to do right by citizens, and the citizenry’s willingness to trust and co-operate with governments.

UHC will be achieved when — in addition to investing in adequate systems and structures — we begin treating health workers with respect by addressing their concerns about occupational safety, health insurance, and staffing needs to fight Covid-19 and other disease outbreaks.

Covid-19 has eroded many of the gains made toward achieving UHC over the past two decades, including putting hundreds of millions of people at risk of sinking into extreme poverty because of prohibitive health care costs. But it has also reminded us of the ingenuity of the human spirit and shown us that when we join forces toward a common goal we can succeed.

Dr Gitahi is Global CEO, Amref Health Africa

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