Medical workers from the Emergency Medical Care Centre of Donetsk Oblast in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Photo: Maksym Kytsiuk / UNDP Ukraine

The road to ensure good health and wellbeing has never been bumpier, as the world is currently facing the greatest health crisis since World War Two. The global Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection rate is increasing exponentially, with over 1.3 million reported cases so far. This pandemic that brought the world to its knees has created a shock in every sector and sphere of life.

As we look at ways to respond to this crisis, we have to not only address the immediate needs of stopping transmission, but also look at the side effects the pandemic will have for health and other aspects of society. Here are three top needs we can’t lose sight of as we respond to the pandemic.

  • Make sure people are protected from further transmission.  In Europe and Central Asia, we’re already supporting countries with emergency procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, masks and ventilators. It is especially important to support front-line medical workers and first responders as they work to save lives - they are highly vulnerable and require the most protection.

  • Take care of the people with pre-existing conditions. Certain groups of people are more vulnerable to the virus, and the crisis could affect the care of their pre-existing conditions. Special attention must especially be paid to those with chronic conditions and elderly people with underlying health conditions, including cardiac disease, hypertension, diabetes and people living with HIV and TB. These groups are not only at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, but also for having their ongoing health care needs compromised, due to overburdened health systems.

    Already we are seeing interruptions in the supply chains of necessary medicines. The ingredients to produce the medicines come primarily from China, and generic medicines are usually produced in India. With production slowing or ceasing, and border closure limiting trade and export, we’re facing a significant supply chain disruption. We’re working to ensure that countries get the medicines they need. Additionally, as the focus for supplies and services is going towards COVID-19, UNDP, WHO and other partners are advising countries and communities to ensure the continuity of financing and uninterrupted delivery of lifesaving services.

  • Ensure that procurement is transparent and environmentally sensitive. We’re in the midst of a crisis, so procurement for health commodities needs to be done urgently. However, we must continue to pay attention to issues of transparency and environmental protection. This means looking at the whole chain of production, from the source of raw materials to who is manufacturing the products: if there is the use of child or migrant labour, whether the producer adheres to good manufacturing practices, and if they respect human rights and follow international standards of production. Then, going further into the procurement process and ensuring business integrity measures and risks are considered, we need to ensure that the procurement process is not corrupt, and low carbon emission standards are being taken into account in transportation. Finally, will the product be able to be re-used, recycled or will it end up in landfills.

    The huge volumes of PPE being procured for this pandemic means an increase in waste. Healthcare waste affects the environment both in air pollution from overflowing garbage, and toxic substances arising from unmanaged disposal processes. At its source in hospitals, the waste should be segregated, and COVID-19-related infectious waste needs to be autoclaved at very high temperatures.

    It is imperative we manage the waste from the procured products in order to protects our environment and avoid future repercussions should the infectious waste be mismanaged. To reduce the carbon emissions from the health sector, we also have been working on promoting waste disposal technologies that do not involve burning materials. In the long term, this will help health care waste management in our region’s to be more low carbon and energy efficient.

This pandemic has shown us once again that there can be no development without health.

While the current priority is responding to COVID-19 to slow the pandemic, we are also working to ensure that other services are not pushed aside so that no one is left behind. We recognize that there will be far-reaching social and economic impacts from this pandemic. And we must ensure that human rights and gender equality are safeguarded and prioritized in the COVID-19 response.

In this time of crisis and to commemorate World Health Day, our response should be about equity of access, and getting health services and commodities to everyone who needs them. It is important to stay on track, as the long-term strength and resilience of our healthcare systems will be greatly determined by how we jointly tackle this crisis.

UNDP is working across the region to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Find out more about our work.

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