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Recovering Stronger: Collaboration is Key to Building Resilient Healthcare Systems in the Middle East

The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed significant vulnerability in our healthcare systems and its impact will be felt for a long time. It has forced upon governments and individuals difficult choices between health and economy, between personal freedom and collective responsibility. These decisions coupled with an overflow of information provide a critical context to any discussion on the future of healthcare.

In preparing for a post-Covid-19 world, we must leverage the learnings from this pandemic to be better prepared against future global health crises, and invest in long-term resilience that is equitable, sustainable and inclusive. 

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that health is about wellness not illness, and digital technology can play an important role in intertwining the different dimensions of this wellness, we also learnt that an accumulation of little steps in the context of a strategic vision can make a big difference. More importantly, as we all experience quarantine and extended isolation for long months, we came to appreciate the importance of having high sense of social responsibility. As such, it is important to highlight that responding effectively and successfully to a health crisis, and building resilience for the future require community collaboration.

Earlier this week, I participated in a webinar titled, Building Resilient Health Systems in the Middle East , alongside a panel of esteemed experts from the region. Supported by Roche, our discussion shed light on a variety of perspectives on how we can future-proof health systems in the Middle East. As we reflected on the diverse spectrum of responses to the pandemic across the region, two critical dimensions emerge from the discussion:

 

1. The need to invest in infrastructure and policies that encourage the adoption of digital solutions 

Until we fully harness the potential of data collection and analytics and adopt digital technologies, we will miss opportunities to respond to health emergencies and deliver personalized healthcare. 

In the wake of COVID-19, we have seen healthcare entities and governments across the Middle East introduce numerous tech applications and platforms to monitor individuals and capture data. While this is a great step in the right direction, it is rather challenging for researchers to retrieve statistics from a diverse range of databases. A key learning for us all is the need for a homogenous standardized network where data can be shared, analyzed   into “smart” data  that can be transformed into actionable information in order to create a truly data-driven healthcare ecosystem.

To achieve this, cross-country collaboration is a fundamental aspect; future-proofing our healthcare system is a joint-responsibility, that requires support from pharma and tech companies, governments, academics, researchers, and the wider population.

In addition, we cannot disregard the ethical, legal and regulatory frameworks that should govern data  security  and individual privacy especially when it comes to data-sharing protocols. Stakeholders need to join hands, set standards and align strategies and policies for data-sharing governance.

 

2. The importance of re-thinking the role of education in nurturing new pathways in our healthcare system

Education is a prevalent topic in the Middle Eastern healthcare landscape. Not only is it a place where algebra and the alphabet were invented, but it is also home to Al-'Adudi Hospital in Baghdad and Al Azhar University Cairo, the world’s first hospital and university. Yet, despite such achievements, there is a lack of success stories that are conceptualized and realized locally. Our region does not lack skills or talent; it is hungry for home-grown innovations and breakthroughs enabled by investments in R&D. As we re-imagine the future post-pandemic, we must create an effective R&D ecosystem that attracts investments, encourages scientific breakthroughs, in addition to stimulating and rewarding innovation. 

For academics, the pandemic illustrated the need to re-design our global medical curriculums. Medical professionals today have realized that apart from patient servicing, a variety of skills are needed to tackle health challenges. These skills include incorporating data and technology, as well as R&D.

Our knowledge of biology, combined to digital technology, will enable the healthcare community to move from a reactive healthcare system to a proactive one and to deliver personalized healthcare services making use of  information made available to us through technology about individual genetic risk predispositions, identification of early patterns of illness across families, populations, and societies. Future-proofing our healthcare systems bears many challenges and costs, however, it has the ability to transform the lives of millions worldwide by making healthcare more accessible, personal and integrated. 

As I reflect on the past year, the need for solidarity and innovation that have arisen amid this unprecedented, rapidly-evolving pandemic makes me hopeful that we should cease the opportunity to make better insight into our weaknesses and plan to come out of this crisis stronger. Together, we can work towards a better and more resilient future, for us and future generations to come.

 

Watch the ‘Building Resilient Health Systems in the Middle East’ held on the 29th of September here: 

 

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