Experts from PAHO, OECD and the World Bank discuss actions to build more resilient health systems to improve preparedness and response against future pandemics

18 Jun 2021
Banner Health Systems resilience

Washington, DC, 18 June 2021 (PAHO)—Experts from the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD), and the World Bank discussed how health systems globally have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lessons learned, during a webinar that took place on 16 June 2021. 

The event aimed at exploring possible actions to build health systems resilience in a manner that will improve capacity in preparedness and response against future pandemics, while moving towards our overarching goal of ensuring Universal Health. 

“The road towards recovery requires the intensification of measures to control the pandemic, the rapid deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, and the mitigation of interruptions in the provision and availability of essential health services,” said James Fitzgerald, Director, Department of Health Systems and Services, PAHO/WHO. “The progressive transition from pandemic response to recovery requires a renewed focus on building resilient health systems”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted health, lives, and livelihoods worldwide, and has generated a social and economic crisis characterized by mass unemployment, increased levels of impoverishment, and exacerbation of longstanding inequities in health.  Health system resilience refers to the ability to absorb disturbances and respond and recover with the timely provision of needed services. It is the capacity of health actors, institutions, and populations to prepare for and effectively respond to crises, maintain core functions when a crisis hits, and, informed by lessons learned, reorganize if conditions require it. 

“To respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, countries are concentrating their efforts on saving lives; to do this, they are expanding the capacity of health services at the hospital level, allocating the necessary resources to control the pandemic, including reallocating health human resources from other levels of the system to the hospital level," said Fitzgerald. 

The path to post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals is through building resilient health systems in the Americas. “Health systems should facilitate and accelerate (1) the recovery of the lost achievements of public health, addressing the inequities of the impact of the pandemic; (2) the expansion of health access and coverage, with a focus on equity; and (3) improve preparedness and response to future multi-hazard emergencies, particularly pandemics,” said Fitzgerald. 

Amalia Del Riego, Chief of the Health Services and Access Unit at PAHO, said that “the resilience of health systems and services is a fundamental issue, not only to put an end to the pandemic but also to recover the losses in public health goals and regain the path towards the goals of sustainable development and universal health.”

Francesca Colombo, Head of the Health Division, OECD, presented “Health Systems Response and Resilience: Experiences and Lessons from the OECD”.  “Organizations, societies, and governments are reflecting on this idea of how to make health systems more resilient; the crisis has clearly not just significant implications in terms of human suffering and the health impact, but it has also lasting consequences in terms of economics and the impact on social systems”, said Colombo. “We cannot afford moving forward to health systems which are not resilient enough for a crisis.”

Zara Shubber, Team Leader, Health Systems Resilience, The World Bank, presented on “Resilience in Health Systems: A perspective from The World Bank”. “The COVID-19 pandemic, like previous health emergencies, really put a spotlight on the fragility of the health systems worldwide; it disrupted essential health services, especially in low-middle income countries,” said Shubber. “Today we have an opportunity to learn from the pandemic and to capitalize on the global momentum to transform health systems. Neither health security nor universal health coverage can be achieved without building resilient health systems,” she added. 

Health system resilience is an attribute of a well-performing health system moving towards the achievement of Universal Health, and a prerequisite for preparedness and response against future global public health emergencies. 
PAHO is working with the countries of the region on a proposed strategy for building resilient health systems and post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery to sustain and protect public health gains. The document aims to strengthen the resilience of health systems, outlining strategies to strengthen systems based on primary health care, integrating the concept of public health and the Essential Public Health Functions across all sectors, and ensure adequate financing to make health systems and societies more resilient and prepared to respond to emergencies.