Investment in healthcare should not be considered as expenditure: Dr Soumya Swaminathan

Delivering a keynote address on 'National security preparedness in the age of disasters and pandemics', at the Pune Dialogue on National Security (PDNS) 2021 organised by Pune International Centre here, she called for the need to invest in the diagnostic capabilities at the primary health care level.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organisation (WHO), on Thursday said investment in the health care system should be looked at as investment and not as expenditure. Delivering a keynote address on ‘National security preparedness in the age of disasters and pandemics’, at the Pune Dialogue on National Security (PDNS) 2021 organised by Pune International Centre here, she called for the need to invest in the diagnostic capabilities at the primary health care level.

“I think we have learned different lessons…but I do hope that it does not go to waste. We should not get into the regular cycles of panics and neglect what the world has been doing and focus on the investment in health and look at it as an investment rather than expenditure, because we know without health there is nothing more important,” she said.

She added that in terms of systems and tools at the national level, early warning and surveillance are critically important. “So we need networks of laboratories that are connected, doing different types of testings. We need to invest in diagnostics capacities at the primary health care level,” she added.

Swaminathan further said that it is clear now why investment in health care is important as it is important not just for infectious diseases but even for non-communicable ones.

“This is really a critical moment for us to think not only at the national but also at the global level as to what steps we need to take in order to prevent a future pandemic, to try to catch at the earliest possible time and prevented from becoming a larger outbreak and to be able to respond effectively,” she said.

She added that policy, norms and guidance need to be developed in advance so that every sector, every government department, civil societies, all are aware of what needs to be done when such threat arises.

“All doctors, nurses need to be trained on reporting of the cases, such as reporting of the unusual cluster of cases, they come across. We need to monitor animals and humans and data has to be shared. This is not happening at the global and national level, but the system needs to be developed and platforms need to be built,” she added.

She said genome sequencing is a good example that has really come to the fore.

“We have around 4 mn genome sequencing of the COVID-19 being shared at the global platforms and it should be extended to the other pathogens,” she said.

Constant monitoring of the environment, animals, and human pathogens will get a comprehensive look and one can make predictions modeling by using platforms like AI and other technologies to see what direction it is going, according to her.

She also called for the strengthening of the WHO.

“At the global level, we need action on governance, strengthening of WHO, so that the global body has the capacity and infrastructure and resources to be able to monitor, to be able to go the countries and inspect, to be able to do early advance warnings,” she added.

Swaminathan said it is hopeful to see what kind of commitments political leaders are going to make at the G20.

“Because pandemic, just like climate change, cannot be addressed at a country level at a time. They need global agreement on governance, on financing. You need an independent financing mechanism so as soon as there is a pandemic, the financing can immediately come into play,” she said.

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