Need to invest heavily in primary healthcare: WHO chief scientist

Pointing out that the World Health Organisation expected several vaccines for Covid-19 early next year but was alarmed at the spike in the number of cases in several European countries, WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan Wednesday said that her primary learning from the pandemic was the need for countries to heavily invest in primary healthcare facilities, as countries with the strongest primary and public healthcare have fared the best during the past eight months.

Delivering the 15th JRD Tata Memorial Oration from Geneva, hosted by the Population Foundation of India, Dr Swaminathan said that Covid-19 deaths had currently stabilised at 5,000 a day. India, Brazil and the US accounted for 75 per cent of all the Covid cases, followed closely by a number of South American countries.

“Most of Africa has experienced a low toll from the pandemic which has been an enigma that is being discussed widely. This could be for a number of reasons including their demographic with a relatively young population, as well as their experience in handling outbursts of infectious diseases. The past nine months have thrown up some important learnings, the most important of which is the need to heavily invest in primary healthcare services. Even high income countries, which don’t have a robust primary healthcare system, have been overwhelmed…,” she said.

Dr Swaminathan added that globally, the pandemic had thrown light on inequities across the world, whether it was the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States or the heavy toll on ethnic minorities from the pandemic in the UK

Pointing out the huge gender impact of the disease globally, Dr Swaminathan said that there are 740 million women working in the informal sector across the world whose income fell by 60 per cent. “The WHO has emphasised a need for gender analysis of the pandemic. There is a great lack of gender and age disaggregated data and this is a gap that needs to be plugged.”

Dr Swaminathan said there are more women that work in the informal sector than men and it is the women that are likely to get pushed into poverty more than men. “There are 87 million women and girls who live in extreme poverty, and we expect these numbers to rise to 100 million by 2021… In India only one fifth of all women actually have access to contraception, 40 per cent of women in the lower income groups and 31 per cent of women between the ages of 15-24 years have access to family planning…. We believe that abortions could go up by 10-15 per cent and maternal deaths by 60 per cent due to the pandemic,” she said.

Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus, Tata Group, said, “This pandemic has disrupted lives worldwide, but as Dr Soumya Swaminathan has pointed out, it is an opportunity to learn important lessons and for government, private and voluntary sectors to come together as one and battle our way out of the woods…” – The Indian Express 

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