THE COVID-19 pandemic has within a short space of reversed health gains that had been attained over a long period and could threaten the attainment of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), the Community Working Group on Health has said.
By Michael Gwarisa
In his World Health Day 2021 remarks, CWGH Executive Director, Mr Itai Rusike said the pandemic had worsened the already existing inequalities to accessing healthcare services and there was need for an escape plan that also favors vulnerable societal groups.
The theme for this year is building a fairer, healthier world for everyone. This year is especially challenging as we mark this day amid COVID–19, and during a time when the risk of a third wave of COVID–19in Zimbabwe is looming.
“Sadly so, the COVID–19 pandemic has abruptly undercut health gains made over many years, making it less likely to achieve sustainable development goal 3 on the health and well being for all by 2030. The disease has stifled progress towards universal healthcare coverage. Critically too, the disease has had a knock on effect on livelihoods, pushed more people into poverty, food insecurity, amplified gender, social and health inequities hence increasing the vulnerability of communities,” said Rusike.
He added that the impact COVID-19 has had will take years to address.
“This world health day presents to us a moment to reflect on health for all, by addressing existing health inequities and putting in place strategies that place greater attention to improving health equity, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. COVID–19 has hit hard, and its impact has been felt the most in communities, which were already vulnerable with fragile healthcare systems. The pandemic is said to have caused a decade’s worth of gains in defeating diseases and saving lives.
“The vulnerable communities when affected by COVID are less likely to access quality care, and are more likely to experience adverse consequences of COVID–19 contained measures such as lock downs. This time when COVID–19 has shown the impact of health on all aspects of lives, is the time to address health concerns broadly taking into consideration underlying determinants of health. Safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, safe food, adequate nutrition and housing, healthy working and environmental conditions, health–related education and information as well as gender equality all of which are important if indeed we are to achieve desired health outcomes and save lives.
“This calls for a multi–sectoral approach to achieve efficient and affordable healthcare for everyone who needs it, wherever they are. Strong partnerships between Governments, private sector, foundations, civil society and communities are a prerequisite to achieving desired health outcomes and saving lives,” he said.
To address the challenges that have been brought about by COVID-19, Mr Rusike said government should allocate additional resources for health to build strong health systems that are able to withstand current and future shocks.
“The resources should be spent in areas of health where they are needed the most to ensure highest impact. Some of the areas are in progressively building human capital for health, nutrition and education. With COVID-19 pushing communities into poverty, the economic shocks -and disruption to health, nutrition, and education –have multiplied the devastation caused by the pandemic well beyond the direct impact of illness from the virus. There is need to bring down social barriers to equitable access to health services. A powerful, equitable response to the pandemic should protect the poorest and most marginalized communities.”
“We are delighted that the COVID–19 vaccine has been developed in record time, is being rolled out. The impact of the COVID–19 crisis is a powerful reminder of the need for greater investments in health research and development.For example, COVID–19 is having long–term health effects and persistent symptoms to some patients. This is an area for emerging research alongside research on all other life threatening diseases including non–communicable diseases.”
Civil society participation in health action is critical as it ensures a strong independent voice for equity and accountability, highlighting impact and priority needs of affected communities, particularly the poorest and most marginalized. As civil society and communities, we remain committed to working together with the Government and all stakeholders for desired health outcomes.