A fast-moving situation like the current COVID-19 pandemic raises profound questions about how to care for people. We need to go as far back as the Spanish ‘Flu at the end of World War One to see a comparable risk to public health. What we face now is much worse than “having the flu” and we must guard against complacency given the much higher mortality rate experience with COVID-19.
What’s more, in a world where we take connectivity and global travel for granted, we have laid the foundations for such a virus to take hold rapidly and spread widely. That makes it even more important to take all possible steps to minimise the spread of the virus. We have to make social-distancing work and take steps to identify and manage those who have had direct contact with an infected person. There must be more testing and an acceleration of research to create a vaccine.
In the meantime, of course, public health systems are under an acute level of pressure as they respond to demand from seriously ill patients in need of intensive medical care. Do we have enough ventilators and the staff to work them to keep people alive? How can we stop healthcare professional from becoming ill themselves?
At a time like this, inequality around healthcare provision becomes especially stark. Access to affordable healthcare is even more important as a pandemic such as the COVID-19 virus develops and impacts globally. Without appropriate healthcare, mortality rates can only go one way.
While the developed world appears to have the capacity to monitor rates of infection and respond accordingly, vulnerable countries are much more at risk in containing a pandemic. However, looking at the situation in Italy shows that being a mature democracy is not enough to deal with infection on this scale. It seems incredible that, in 2020, clinicians have to make “life or death” decisions about who gets treatment.
All countries have to take a serious look at their healthcare systems. Is the US really “great again” when an estimated 28.9 million people are uninsured? Even for those with insurance, healthcare costs are high which raises questions about the ability of the insurance sector to cope with the pressure of claims.It’s not just the US where getting better costs money. According to USA TODAY the most expensive health care systems are: United States followed by Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Netherland and Denmark.
The situation is worse in the US because there is no cap on what the healthcare industry is allowed to charge. Other countries do try to limit costs so they spend more proportionally on healthcare but with not all of their citizens insured. In the UK, healthcare provision follows the principle of “free at the point of delivery” while other countries either follow an insurance model or have inadequate public health provision. That is a worrying fact with COVID-19 on the march. Underdeveloped countries face a major threat while the developed world cannot afford to relax. Pressure on healthcare is universal – policymakers have no choice but to respond wisely.