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Preparing Now for the Next Health Emergencies

While it is tempting to put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror, now is the time to prepare for future public-health crises. Governments should focus on boosting their health systems’ resilience, which includes strengthening prevention and response capacities, improving readiness, and strengthening primary care.

WASHINGTON, DC – The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses and lack of preparedness of health systems globally. When the virus was at its peak, many low- and middle-income countries struggled to save lives while sustaining essential medical services such as maternal health care, routine childhood immunization, and the treatment of non-communicable diseases.

After this traumatic period, it is tempting to hope that the worst is behind us. Unfortunately, the future is likely to bring more frequent public-health crises, owing to climate change, urbanization, deforestation, water shortages, land-use changes, the transmission of pathogens from animals to humans, and conflict-induced fragility.

To limit the impact of the coming crises on lives and livelihoods, governments must take urgent action to boost the resilience of their health systems. According to a recent World Bank report, a resilient health system is integrated, enabling more rapid identification of threats and risk factors; agile, and thus able to respond quickly to evolving needs; absorptive, to contain shocks; and adaptive, to minimize health service disruptions.