Experts Warn About Uganda’s Vulnerable Healthcare System

Uganda’s healthcare system is far from being resilient enough, especially in responding and recovering from outbreaks and other emergencies, but this also poses opportunities for innovators, according to experts.

Apart from pandemics and epidemics like COVID-19 and Ebola, Uganda and many other countries are also facing an increase in Non-Communicable Diseases and climate-related disasters, among others.

Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic stretched healthcare systems to limits that left them unable to offer holistic care and continuity of services to other non-COVID-related patient populations. For poorer countries, the effects were worse because the health systems were already weak, but fortunately for Uganda and other African countries, the cases were fewer than in the west and the east, though the lockdown had more adverse effects on the economies generally.

Suraj Shrestha, the Programme Management Officer at World Health Organization, says that Uganda in particular is one of the most vulnerable health systems because of the emergencies that befall the country time and again.

Speaking at the fourth health innovation conference in Kampala, Dr Shrestha said that the country still has to build the capacity which would enable it to respond to such outbreaks as COVID-19 without hurting other sections of the health sector.

According to experts, the focus shifted to responding to the surging numbers of infections and clinical resources, both human and infrastructural could barely manage the surge. These challenges prompted stakeholders to think innovatively about building resilient healthcare systems to cope with future outbreaks and challenges.

The two-day conference is aimed at not only seeking ways of using innovation to “proof the health systems against future emergencies but also laying out opportunities available for innovators in the health sector.

Lisa Nelson, the Country Director for the Centers for Disease Control in Uganda, warned that while countries, including the US and Uganda, are experiencing rising cases of COVID-19, there are also new epidemics and pandemics being reported.

Nelson hailed the quick pace of health innovation that followed the outbreak of COVID-19 in both social and commercial solutions, but also the various health innovation products. These included online information dissemination and consultancy, but also e-health systems where patients could access care without necessarily moving to health centres. She says such innovators should be included in the country’s innovation community.

US Ambassador to Uganda, Natalie Brown used the conference to urge Ugandans to continue taking precautions against COVID-19 and Ebola, adding that specifically for Ebola, the country should not relax until the 42-day period elapses with no new case reported.

Ambassador Brown said innovations in the communication sector seem the easiest, but provided most of the critical products in the management of the pandemic. She says Ugandans have been quick to adopt some innovations and even moved ahead of the developed world, which shows that there is a lot of opportunity in communication innovation for health.

The conference is focusing on promoting innovation in data and bioinformatics and Its possibilities for healthcare because data has created many possibilities in all spheres of the healthcare system and has become part of the delivery of sustainable healthcare countrywide.

Other opportunities cited are from a report by the World Health Organisation and World Bank which showed that half the world’s population lacks access to quality healthcare services with wider gaps noticeable in Low and Medium-Income Countries. This means that there is a need to accelerate access to healthcare, especially for marginalized populations and this creates opportunities for innovators.

Chris Lukolyo, the Digital Country Lead at the United National Capital Development Fund in Uganda, gave government policies that are used in enhancing health delivery but face limitations during implementation. Community healthcare especially the communication bit requires a lot of innovative solutions to be successful.

The conference will also discuss solutions to capacity building for digital healthcare workers that are needed to cope with the changing technology landscape, which will greatly impact the workforce.

“This new age of healthcare, unlike others, will be patient-centric, with a need for a skilled and highly specialized workforce,’ according to the conference concept paper. It adds that with the ongoing global shortage of healthcare workers and increasing demand for healthcare services, there will be an extension of roles for allied healthcare staff.

Dr Andrew Kambugu, the Executive Director at the Infectious Disease Institute said some of the innovative solutions put in place by the government still need improvement and that innovators can take the opportunity on this.

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