OPINION-EDITORIAL | Resilient Health Systems Now More Than Ever

An opinion-editorial written and submitted by Dr. Ronald Law


With July ushering in our celebration of this year’s National Disaster Resilience Month [Philippines] with the theme: "Sama-samang Pagsulong sa Katatagan sa Gitna ng Bagong Normal" and with all of our society’s efforts mustered to step up our response to COVID-19 to stem the tide of rising cases, we are reminded by this pandemic that we live amidst exciting times.

With a changed world and a changing population, the public health landscape had also significantly changed—threat of new and old diseases, climate change, extreme weather events,
natural disasters, armed conflict—all of these are challenging health systems of the world today,
causing preventable diseases, disabilities and deaths that contribute to the burdens of our
existence as Filipinos.

The landmark Universal Health Care law may just be a dream if the health sector is not resilient
to the negative effects of these emerging health issues. Worse, our health and development goals
can be affected as well.

Resilience in simple terms is the collective ability of a system to absorb the shocks brought about
by different kinds emergencies and disasters, adapt to them and transform itself to be a better
organization for the people that it serves.

The health sector should endeavor to integrate resilience in its policies, plans and programs.
Resilience has to permeate the day-to-day operations of health organizations and health facilities
in the public and private sectors at all levels. Health services should not be discontinued just because of these disruptions to our system—but this is easier said than done.

Much of this requires a strong focus on the improvement of our preparedness and response
systems to address these emerging health threats. And this is built on the premise that sound
strategies have to be undertaken to make the system really work.

The Department of Health (DOH) should be purposive on attaining health system resilience. It
should be bold and resolute in its strategies to embed this in the devolved health systems of local
government units. The Universal Health Care (UHC) law is clear about this. All health units
should have the disaster plans, response teams, logistics and information management systems to
be prepared.

To make the health system functional in emergencies and disasters, it is imperative to invest in
many building blocks—governance, health human resource, financing, supplies, information
management systems, technology—so it can deliver essential health services at the time they are
needed most by our people.

Solar Rooftop at the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City, Philippines. PHC is a member of the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals (GGHH) Network

In the rollout of UHC, to start with, all provinces and cities with the support of the DOH will
commit to set up their health care provider networks with disaster risk reduction and management in health systems in place. Primary care and medical services, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene and mental health must be delivered by the government to the affected population.

Services should not be interrupted, life must go on and health systems should emerge better than how they were before the disaster.

The vital role of stakeholders and partners from government, private sector, academe, civil
society, communities cannot be stressed enough. Doing the whole gamut of disaster prevention,
preparedness, response, recovery and rehabilitation activities is a gargantuan task no single
agency of government can handle. Effective collaboration is a requirement not only to survive in
the new normal but also to catalyze the transformation of our systems to the level of resilience
that we aspire for. This is an opportunity that the health sector must seize now.

Finally, the call for resilience should go beyond the organization and the system. It should be
founded on resilience at the personal level. A resilient workforce among others is arguably the
most important input to making systems and societies resilient especially during this unprecedented pandemic.###


Dr. Ronald Law is a physician, public health specialist and professor of public health at the University of the Philippines-College of Public Health. He obtained a fellowship in public health emergencies and emerging health issues at Griffith University, Australia and investigated the topic of health security at the University of Washington, U.S.A. as a US-ASEAN Fulbright visiting scholar.