Rwanda: CHOGM - Can Another Pandemic Surprise Us?

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed and amplified the weaknesses that existed in health care systems across the world.

Countries struggled with managing overwhelming numbers of infections. Many people died as a result of lack of medical attention.

On a brighter side, the pandemic surprised us with the rapid technological advancement and showed that a lot can be achieved with the right financing and political will.

There is, however, no guarantee that, in the event another pandemic strikes, the same approach would work.

Delegates attending a two-day Commonwealth People's Forum in Kigali on Tuesday, June 21, weighed in on the need to allocate more finances for equitable health services to avoid another breakdown of health systems as witnessed in many countries at the peak of the pandemic.

Addressing more than 250 delegates, the Speaker of Rwanda's Parliament, Donatille Mukabalisa, said: "The Covid-19 pandemic tested the ability of our governance systems to deliver on the needs of citizens.

"It has exposed the inequality among Commonwealth members in accessing vaccines, equipment and personnel required to handle public health threats."

The People's Forum, she added, is an opportunity for civil society and other participants to discuss the causes of these and other inequalities, and how we can do things better.

"There were many shared issues among the developed and developing countries during the pandemic. These include workers' burnout, inequality and little knowledge on the severity of the disease and reduction in access to certain health services," said Dr Ines Hassan, Senior Policy Researcher at the Global Health Governance Programme at the Usher Institute.

For Prof Justin Koonin, president of ACON, a non profit health organisation, there cannot be global health securities with no universal health care.

He said that the lack of the two is what comes out as a lesson learnt from the pandemic and that the world should address the need for the two - global health security and universal health care.

His views were backed by Prof. Senait Fisseha, the managing director of Global Programs at the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation.

She said: "Global health security and universal health care are two sides of the same coin. There is a lot learnt from the pandemic but it all differs depending on one's optics. We can't ignore the fact that the global health system failed vulnerable people, especially those in the sub-Saharan Africa who were scrambling for vaccines.

"The medical supply system that we built is broken. There is also the failure of the institutions that were built to protect the people. To fix this, we need global health coordination."

She went on to note that there are institutions in Africa like the African Union and Africa CDC that stepped up to address issues around the pandemic and ensure Africa is no longer at the mercy of donors.

She warned: "You cannot neglect health and expect to carry on with business. In Africa, only Rwanda and South Africa are investing 15% of their GDP in health care."

Delegates at the Commonwealth People's Forum believe that the only way to avoid a medical crisis in case of another emergency is increased health financing across the globe.

Dr Ravindra P. Rannan-Eliya , the Executive Director and Fellow of the Institute of Health (IHP) Sri Lanka, said universal healthcare financing is about solidarity.

He said: "Countries struggle with understanding the concept and the need for universal healthcare financing."

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