CEIF Health Systems under Pressure

Experiences from India and Central Europe
When: Sep 10th, 2020 11:30
Where: Online Meeting

Event overview

The Forum was created around an Indian-Czech-Romanian initiative to foster higher-order relations and enhanced dialogue among Central European countries (Czechia, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Germany, and Serbia) and Indian counterparts. It aims to encompass key issues and stakeholders from the two sides and welcomes high-level participants from different sectors.

The first meeting of the Central Europe - India Forum, originally planned to be held in Prague on June 15 - 16, 2020, had to be postponed due to the global pandemic. As a new date is being determined, the Steering Committee decided to go online and organize a series of virtual events. The first one titled “India - CE relations in Post-Covid World Order: First Lessons Learned” took place in June – report from the event can be found here. The second online ‘by invitation only’ event took place on Thursday, September 10, 2020 and carried title of “Health Systems under Pressure: Experiences from India and Central Europe.”

Report

The pandemic puts health systems around the world under immense pressure but Covid-19 also presents an opportunity for developments.

Summary

The spring of 2020 observed the onslaught of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic, leaving health systems around the world under immense pressure from the fast-growing number patients. Popular belief suggested that the developing world would be worst affected, but it was the developed countries that were faced with the weight of the pandemic in the initial months of the spread. Since the number of cases was slowly decreasing in coming summer, many countries eased the initially draconic restrictions and were trying to get back to ‘normal’. The current developments, however, indicate that the pandemic may be far from over. Lesser developed countries, with an increasing number of cases and deaths, have now caught on. And developed countries have started observing a second wave of the pandemic.

As of September 28, 2020, global cases have surpassed 33 million with a death toll of 1 million. Currently, the Americas contribute to 50 percent of the global cases, followed by South East-Asia and Europe, at 21 percent and 17 percent, respectively. In terms of global deaths, Americas continue to contribute the highest percentage of 55 percent deaths, however, Europe’s contribution of 24 percent is more than double that of Asia’s 11 percent.

As we move forward, one fact remains—the virus is here to stay. It has now become a ‘new normal’ to wear masks and maintain social distancing, while people all around the world eagerly await the vaccine. To this end, the Observer Research Foundation (India), KEYNOTE (Czech Republic), and the GlobalFocus Center (Romania) co-organised a digital discussion on Thursday, September 10, 2020 titled “Health Systems under Pressure: Experiences from India and Central Europe” to discern key questions that have been raised by the pandemic and its response. What do we need to learn about how to better equip our health systems to deal with health emergencies of such scale? What role have emerging AI systems played in varied aspects of the pandemic response? Is vaccine a solution?

A health crisis of this scale has not been seen since 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. There were large epidemics such as Ebola virus disease or SARS not long time ago but potential for global spread was quickly recognized and adequate measures were taken before it could trigger world-wide health crisis. The new situation showed that health systems were not adequately equipped or prepared to defend the global community.

On the positive side, one of the areas that saw applaudable development has been the very productive, and mostly unsolicited, coming together of the entire healthy ecosystem across towns, cities, countries and continents. Since a global crisis requires a global solution, this pandemic observed the coming together of global partners to work together and fight the disease. For instance, European countries have been historically dependent on Chinese imports for protective equipment and disinfectants; however, the pandemic saw the countries putting together their resources to locally produce and provide masks, personal protective equipment or sanitizers. Taking lesson from the dependency, the EU is now looking for possibilities to support manufacturing capacities of medical equipment in Europe. Similarly, India, while lacking in health infrastructure and capabilities, was able to assimilate its governing bodies, hospitals and institutions to set-up testing and isolation facilities during the initial months of the pandemic.

Another important point raised by the crisis has been opportunities for change. The Covid-19 has accelerated the advancement in innovation and technology. The pandemic has also pushed the digital health mission agenda of the Indian government to the forefront, initiating the long road towards digitization of healthcare in India. The emerging technology as a pandemic response tool was developed in multiple ways. An exemplary example of harnessing the technology is the development of the Aarogya Setu app in India, which has helped to monitor healthy people and trace possibly infected people. Multiple countries saw the acceptability and standardization of telemedicine. The telemedicine is able to effectively cover remote areas to virtually reach people, as well as provide a respite to overburdened doctors and nurses but there is still ‘human medical device’ – doctors and nurses - needed to diagnose. It is good laying foundation which will certainly develop but we cannot expect that within foreseen months. The medical infrastructure of countries face a certain degree of inertia characterized by the inability of the systems to implement the solutions and gaps in manpower remain the biggest issue of the pandemic in any country.

The road ahead

Since the world is more or less dependent on the development and production of a vaccine, future dependencies seem unavoidable. There are three critical issues that must be addressed: first, the discovery of the vaccine by complying with the global norms of efficacy, effectiveness and safety conditions. Second, the distribution of the vaccine at affordable prices. However, the current pharmaceutical pricing mechanism in EU, currently very difficult, requires review of a new pricing arrangement specific to Covid-19. And the last, once the vaccine is available in the countries, how many people will accept to be vaccinated with this new vaccine?

Another key facet which has been somewhat ignored till now, with dire repercussions, is shutting down of non-Covid health services during lockdowns. As we move forward, the global community must strengthen its coordination in the face of a crisis. This pandemic saw grave mistakes during the initial stages that have culminated to an enormous economic as well as human loss. Global health entities and policy makers must put the health of its citizens at the forefront. With the Covid-19 crisis reshaping economies and public policy worldwide, it is crucial that we use this moment to lay the foundations for a strong, sustained and socially inclusive response through international cooperation, technological advancement and governance innovation.

Annexure 1 – List of Speakers

Ms. Sheetal Ranganathan, Venture Partner, Healthcare and Life Sciences Investments, growX Ventures; Mentor, National Health Authority's Innovation Unit (GoI), India 

Dr. Vlad Mixich, Executive Director, Romanian Health Observatory and Board Member, European Public Health Alliance, Romania

Professor Roman Prymula, Government Commissioner for Science and Research in Health Services, Czechia

Mr. Oommen Kurian, Senior Fellow, Health Initiative, ORF, India

The report was written by Kriti Kapur, Junior Fellow, Health and Sustainable Development Initiative, ORF.

Further online session focusing on technology, sustainable economy or human capital after pandemic is prepared for the months to come and will set the ground for the initial CEIF meeting in 2021.

The Central Europe - India Forum strives to enhance the mutual flow of information and knowledge in the fields of research and technology, business and trade, civil society, politics and security between India and Central Europe and to contribute to strong and diverse relations among the represented countries including promoting cooperation, creating and fostering sustainable networks, and identifying new opportunities. The project is developed, led, and organized by the Observer Research Foundation (New Delhi), KEYNOTE (Prague), and the GlobalFocus Center (Bucharest).

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About the Project

The Forum was created around an Indian-Czech-Romanian initiative to foster higher-order relations and enhanced dialogue among Central European countries (Czechia, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Germany, and Serbia) and Indian counterparts. It aims to encompass key issues and stakeholders from the two sides and welcomes high-level participants from different sectors.

The Forum strives to enhance the mutual flow of information and knowledge in the fields of research and technology, business and trade, civil society, politics and security and to contribute to strong and diverse relations among the represented countries; to promote cooperation; to create and foster sustainable networks; and to identify new opportunities. It aims to offer a permanent platform, combining internal focused discussions within specific agendas with a public component, aimed at highlighting the importance of CE-India relations and educating the public about key opportunities and challenges in this regard. It is developed, led, and organized by KEYNOTE (Prague), the Observer Research Foundation (New Delhi), and the GlobalFocus Center (Bucharest).

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