This article uses a health stewardship perspective to interpret the strengths of and challenges to national health authorities' capacities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic through the renewed essential public health functions (EPHF) framework. Based on a literature review, this article argues that the institutional capacities required by countries to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Americas included all four stages of the new EPHF policy cycle: assessment, policy development, allocation of resources and access. While health authorities provided these key functions (e.g. data analysis, intersectoral policy dialogues, allocation of additional funds), the interventions implemented depended on each ’country’s own institutional structures. Health authorities faced significant challenges including fragmentation and the lack of institutional and personnel capacities, thus compromising the delivery of an effective and equitable response. In addition, the response to the pandemic has been uneven due to weaknesses in central leadership and coordination capacity, the politicization of the response and differences in the capacity to respond at subnational levels. Such challenges reflect structural weaknesses that existed prior to the onset of the pandemic, as well as the low prioritization of public health in agendas for health systems strengthening. A future agenda should prioritize improving structural elements while strengthening the stewardship capacities of health authorities and developing institutional structures that guarantee access to and universal coverage of health care.
Báscolo et al.
Opinion and analysis