Making the most of global collaboration post pandemic
By Primary Care Journal-
On 9th March 2021, PUBLIC and the Satellite Applications Catapult held a virtual event titled ‘Global Covid Vaccination: The Pivotal Role for Technology’ with keynote speakers from Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO), followed by a presentation by McKinsey. During the event, Gavi outlined what it is trying to achieve. That is, the current distribution of the COVAX vaccine to less-developed nations and the proposed supply of 25 per cent of vaccine stock by rich nations to poorer countries to ensure equitable access.
I was asked, as a participant in the webinar to provide some reflections on what was presented, and in particular with regard to my work in disaster medicine.
One of the most important ways the UK can assist in a global recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic is, firstly, to improve its domestic response by freeing up capacity and the supply of vaccines. Fundamentally, our response to the pandemic has not been best practice. Public policy, too often driven by opinion and media pressure, has pitched health against the economy, causing both to suffer. As a result, the UK has the highest death toll in Europe and the 5th highest number of cases and deaths globally.
We need to improve our future preparation, mitigation and response so that, whilst improving the management of future pandemics and domestic pressures, we can also maximise the support that we can provide to other countries, both for SARS-CoV-2 and other future disasters.
How do we do this?
During the event, global collaboration was a focus. Countries that have fared better than others typically had experience in dealing with pandemics. For example, countries that had dealt with the first SARS outbreaks were generally better prepared to respond to Covid-19.
We should seek to make the most of the current level of global collaboration by sharing experience and learning between countries, both in coming out of the pandemic and in preparation for future disasters. We can then apply this collaboration at a local level. A multitude of industries have been employing people in roles that have direct comparisons to the pandemic,. They have developed best practice through training drills and we should learn from this. Utilising skills such as crowd management, supply chain management, and the use of event spaces could be vital as countries look to scale up vaccination programmes.
Partnerships will be hugely valuable in dealing with the knock-on effects of the pandemic. Cancer waiting lists and long-term illnesses have been too low a priority for the last year or so. In doing so, the NHS has built up a worrying backlog of patients and will have a significant aftershock from deferred and delayed treatments. Working more closely with companies who could provide support in these areas could relinquish some of this pressure and provide the NHS with much needed extra capacity.
For disasters, which will continue to happen, we need to address those factors that have hindered our interventions (human behaviour, culture etc) so that we can be more effective in the future. This, coupled with adherence to established international accords for dealing with disasters, such as the Sendai Framework, will prepare us for when another pandemic hits.
Now that we have seen, first-hand, the impact of being poorly prepared, it should be clear that mitigation and prioritising future preparedness is a vital part of disaster management. It is no longer enough to just have expert response to pandemics or, indeed, any disaster.
Overall, we are dealing with the problem at hand; the vast majority of those in the high-risk category in the UK have now received a first dose of the vaccine. These groups account for around 88 per cent of deaths from Covid-19, so results from the vaccination programme are promising. But to ensure the sustainability of this effort, we need to keep an eye on the incoming shocks that have not been a priority for the last year.
The subsequent spike in mental health issues, untreated long-term illnesses, and increased waiting times for cancer patients are but a few from a long list of issues that the NHS simply has not had the capacity to care for. Regaining control over these domestic issues through vaccinations will free up capacity in the system, reducing the pressure on the NHS, and, in turn, increasing the supply of the vaccine. Managing these areas is key to ensuring the UK can fulfil its role as a partner to work alongside and with the rest of the world.
Professor James Kingsland OBE is a member of Public Policy Projects Advisor Board. He is a Primary Care physician with over 37 years of experience in the NHS and is a clinical professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Central Lancashire. He is the Primary Care lead for the Faculty of Disaster Medicine in India and Nepal.
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