Interview: Strong, resilient public health systems vital to combating global epidemics, says U.S. expert

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NEW YORK, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- Strong and resilient public health systems are critical in the battle against epidemics, a renowned U.S. expert on global health has said.

In the prevention and control of major global epidemics, "what's very valuable for countries like China or the United States or any other country is to work on establishing strong health systems that are resilient," said Wafaa El-Sadr, director of the Global Health Initiative and International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

A strong health system is fundamental to dealing with today's problems, while resilience means it is capable of responding to something new like COVID-19, El-Sadr told Xinhua in a recent interview, adding that many basics are required to prop up a sound health system.

Sufficient facilities such as clinics and hospitals, sufficiently trained health care and community workers, sufficient supplies of protective materials, as well as data systems to collect related information are all crucial in confronting a disease, she said.

It is equally important that the laboratories are well poised, with equipment, tests and technicians ready for rapid diagnosis and monitoring, said the prominent researcher, adding decentralization of laboratories is also essential so they can be accessed by people even in remote places through sample transport systems.

The key to improving resilience of health systems is that "health care workers are trained to be able to take initiative and make decisions on something new," said the founder of ICAP, a global leader in HIV and health systems strengthening.

"Communication is a vital supplement to resilient health systems," she added.

Communication is about engagement of communities, which is one pillar of the health system building blocks, she said, noting it is important to communicate early and often, using trusted messengers and diverse modalities.

Commenting on the ongoing fight against COVID-19, El-Sadr said China's efforts are encouraging in multiple aspects.

"China is going through a very difficult time. This is not an easy situation for any country to tackle ... we need to acknowledge this," she said, while highlighting China's unparalleled ability to mobilize resources to swiftly develop facilities to take care of a multitude of patients.

"That's enormous effort and that should be applauded," she said.

Noting "it's very heartening to see how quickly Chinese scientists were able to identify the sequence of the virus" and published it rapidly thereafter, the expert said those moves are "very useful to the global community to understand what this disease looks like."

El-Sadr also underscored the significance of international cooperation and coordination in addressing a major outbreak, as "infectious diseases don't respect borders and we're all vulnerable" in the face of epidemics.

"People are bringing their best brains and their best skills, trying to solve this puzzle. And it's really wonderful to see this happening," she said. Enditem

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