More than 1.6 million health care workers worldwide had been infected by Covid-19 as at end December 2020; that figure must have risen over the last eleven months, and it’s likely that nurses would make up the largest affected group. We do not have the statistics relating to local cases of infection, but the nursing unions have lately sounded the alarm and are anticipating a shortfall in the number of health care personnel at this critical juncture of the fight against the pandemic amid a surge of the Delta variant. We can only hope that the government’s measures announced last week, though short of what the current crisis situation warrants, will help contain the resurgence of the pandemic.
Our health services have risen to the challenge of caring for patients during the pandemic since last year, and as cases of infection have ebbed and flowed, our health personnel – doctors, nurses and support staff across the medical services – have continued working with whatever support and resources were available to care for critically sick patients. That is despite the lack of a sufficient number of ventilators, the non-availability of vital drugs and Personal Protective Equipment in the initial stages of the pandemic, placing themselves and their loved ones at great risk. The services and infrastructure are clearly overwhelmed today with the number of cases of infection affecting hundreds almost every day, and there are still todate questions raised as to whether the health authorities have adopted all the measures necessary to make good the deficiencies noted since the onset of the pandemic last year.
If the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the provision of routine care, forcing the medical providers to postpone many services, as has been reported recently, it also presents an opportunity to revisit our health care system and the services it provides to patients free of cost. We understand that priorities in the current crisis are not conducive to level-headed analysis and planning required for such a task. Neither can we lose sight that this virus may be with us for longer than forethought and mutate to new variants, forcing pharmaceutical companies and all countries to keep up their guard. The various previous episodes of Ebola, SARS or H1N1, avian flu and others have amply demonstrated that with international trade, exchanges and travel, the spread of a future viral agent, even if it does not reach pandemic scales, can no longer remain a distant hazy possibility. As an island, protected by natural frontiers, we have stamped out malaria and other tropical infections and there is no reason why utmost vigilance and strict quarantine at frontier entry points would not have prevented the 2020 penetration or the 2021 resurgence earlier this year.
This being said, the earliest opportunity should be seized to reflect on our health system, and in the spirit of the US infrastructure review, consider how to “Build Back Better”. A system capable to meet any future crisis, including the challenges posed by climate change, with the limited resources that are available to produce better outcomes – and at lower costs wherever possible with external assistance where necessary.
This will require the inputs of different disciplines to ensure health security for all. As we have witnessed these last months, a pandemic could bring economies and nations across the world to their knees, and the challenges it poses will demand a response from more than just the health sector. But above all, we need a new level of consciousness that public sanitation and health matters should be above political considerations. In our limited human resource environment, governments that fail to call on expertise, useful contributions or valuable collaboration from civil society and Opposition forces, are making themselves unnecessarily lame. “Building back better” rests on the premise that we are in the same boat and agree on the common objective even though we may differ on the means and approaches.
* Published in print edition on 16 November 2021
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