Amid a health crisis, there is more than time to think about the future of health

Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

2020 has not started at its best. For Asian countries, The Year of the Rat brought a gloomy surprise: COVID-19.

I am not going to look into the epidemics of the virus since most of the people are aware of it and I may write about it in the future (yay, I am back. Health articles here we go).

China struggled, Taiwan struggled, South Korea struggled, Singapore struggled, and many other Asian places struggled with the virus. All in all, these countries are letting their guards down and slowly coming back to a ‘normal’ life. However, Western countries are now battling the same crisis, but the battle seems to be tougher and harder to win.

Plenty of articles have been released – by social scientists, by researches, by doctors and other health professionals. Today one has especially caught my eye: At the Epicenter of the Covid-19 Pandemic and Humanitarian Crises in Italy: Changing Perspectives on Preparation and Mitigation. It was published at the NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) and, although it focuses on the Italian case, it brings an important topic to be discussed in the future of health and healthcare: patient-centered care and community centered-care.

According to the article “Western health care systems have been built around the concept of patient-centered care, but an epidemic requires a change of perspective toward a concept of community-centered care“.

This is true. Health has been individualized. Healthcare treats individuals. Health policies think about the community, but hardly ever consider epidemics. Epidemics are not about individuals, it is about the whole community: locally and globally.

COVID-19 mainly affects those that are at-risk groups: elderly people, people who have a long-term medical condition, immunosuppressed individuals and others. But those three mentioned above are the ones who we all have easily contact in our daily lives (in a store, in the supermarket, in a library or wherever). Therefore, we are also responsible for their health. We may also put these people in danger if we carry the virus (and we are asymptomatic). Therefore, COVID-19 is not an individual’s fight. It requires a community-centered response.

What are the necessary measures to mitigate COVID-19 effects on the population and, especially, on our healthcare systems? All the ones that past experiences have already shown us, but people tend to ignore (even if they are legally imposed): isolation, quarantine, social distancing, and community containment.

These measures are traditional and severe, yet efficient. They do not only help the population but as well as hospitals, health professionals and other workers who are risking their lives to keep our society in fair living conditions. Case in point, social distancing reduced 60% (YES, SIXTY! MORE THAN 50!!!) of transmission in China. Health facilities were already overwhelmed. Now imagine how the same health facilities would be without social distancing. Taiwan has had so far only 267 cases (2 deaths) AND IT IS NEXT TO CHINA. How? It relied on the use of technology – phone tracking -, a mandatory quarantine, a single-payer healthcare system, and swift decision-making. Similarly, Hong Kong has had 453 (and it’s ‘inside’ China). How was it possible? Border restrictions. Hong Kong used to have more than 300,000 daily visitors coming from China. With restrictions, there were only 750 in February. The result: fewer and controllable COVID-19 cases. Another great example of contention is in South Korea: Public authorities advised the rest of the population to stay indoors and avoid public events, practice good hygiene and wear masks. Quarantine and isolation were not obligatory for the healthy ones, but people were aware that social distance was important, crucial to prevent bitter consequences.

It is not only essential to act now, but also to prepare for the future. Outbreaks are not going to end. And they will pop up when least expected. Therefore, it is time to think about investments in health structure, health technology, and research; a reliable, free-of-charge healthcare system; quick identification, testing, and isolation of a potential outbreak disease; and the most important one: public consciousness of community healthcare.

Drop your comment. This is something we all need to talk about. The future of health depends on us.

References and good sources of information:

What We Can Learn From Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong About Handling Coronavirus

The Novel Coronavirus Originating in Wuhan, ChinaChallenges for Global Health Governance

How Taiwan is containing coronavirus – despite diplomatic isolation by China

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