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Strong health systems are crucial in the fight against pandemics

“The needs that existed before the corona epidemic are still there. The actions we take today should be of use also after covid-19 pandemic”, says Åsa Andersson, lead policy specialist at Sida. A strong health system makes a country better equipped to face challenges such as natural disasters or other health threats.

New technologies, vaccines and other methods that improve the quality of life and cure disease have meant major advances in public health over the past 20 years.

But despite all the progress, half of the world's population lacks basic health care (according to the World Health Organization, WHO). One in four health clinics does not have access to clean water - a prerequisite for preventing the spread of viruses.

“We need vigorous actions to prevent inequalities between and within countries. Sida is working to strengthen countries' health systems in the long term so that they can deal with virus outbreaks such as covid-19 in the future”, says Åsa Andersson.

Leave no one behind

Sides works to ensure that all people have access to health care. The same perspective is found in the declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2019 that all people should have access to general and equal healthcare regardless of their ability to pay (Universal Health Coverage, UHC). The 2030 Agenda underlines that no one should be left behind.

Examples of what Sida supports

  • strengthening and building of health care systems
  • clean water and safe hygiene and sanitation
  • counteracting antimicrobial resistance (AMR)
  • menstrual health
  • combating gender-based violence
  • innovative health insurance systems for people living in poverty
  • access to sexual and reproductive health and rights

Virtually all of Sida's support in the health field includes strengthening national health systems with a focus on women's and children's health as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Sida has also helped public agencies in for example South Africa, Rwanda and Ethiopia to develop national health insurance systems.

Examples of Sida cooperation partners

  • UN agencies such as WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA
  • national governments
  • large and small civil society organisations

Dealing with the consequences of the pandemic

The spread of covid-19 is fast and at the present time no one knows how low and medium income countries will be affected. Dealing with the consequences of the pandemic puts enormous strains on health care systems in many countries. Sida's focus is finding a balance between short and long term contributions, that are useful when the outbreak is over. For example providing health clinics with water and better sanitation and hygiene or enabling continued access to basic health care.

“We keep an eye on other important areas within health care so that they don’t suffer because of the increased focus on covid-19”, says Åsa Andersson.

Examples of health support

Alongside long-term health support, Sida is funding efforts to curb the covid-19 pandemic's impact on people living in poverty.

Hand washing campaigns

UNICEF's WASH programme in collaboration with the World Health Organisation's WHO-WASH programme, has developed global guidelines for covid-19 measures around the world. They also work with social media campaigns for hand washing. Unicef ​​also participates in national responses to covid-19 in 136 countries. Sida support: SEK 90 million

Safe deliveries during the pandemic

The WHO-based Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research (AHPSR), Research and Training in Tropical Disease (TDR) and the Human Reproduction Programme (HRP) work at global, regional and country levels to strengthen health systems. This includes preparedness for outbreaks of disease and the development of guidelines for how to treat pregnant women and childbirth in a covid-19 pandemic. Sida support: SEK 209 million.

Testing of covid-19

Myanmar has developed a national health plan and developed a system for the delivery of medicines in the countryside. Through the Access to Health Fund, the most vulnerable – including ethnic minorities, women and children - gain access to good quality healthcare in difficult-to-reach areas.

In March 2020, the fund decided to begin testing for covid-19 and plans to purchase protective equipment and looks into how certain groups can be protected from the spread of the virus - for example internally displaced people and people living with HIV or tuberculosis.

Cheaper care for risk groups

Sida supports efforts against covid-19 in Zimbabwe, for example access to contraceptives and menstrual hygiene products during this difficult period.

Part of the support goes through PSI Population Service International. PSI is one of few organisations reaching vulnerable groups living with HIV as well as LGBTQI people and, for example, gives people the opportunity to test themselves for HIV in their homes.

Sida’s support to Health Development Fund (HDF) lowers the costs people have to pay for health care and gives them access to vaccines and medicines. The support also goes to the training of healthcare professionals. Right now, an action plan is being developed for how the country will handle the spread of covid-19.

Zimbabwe is carrying out communication efforts in local languages ​​aimed at schools and clinics through radio, television and social media to prevent the spread of infection. Protective clothing for hospital staff are purchased and there is work to ensure that regular care can continue while setting up special clinics for covid-19 patients.

Contraceptives & safe deliveries

Sida, through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), supports health care in South Sudan. That includes safer childbirth, preventive maternity care and training of midwives and obstetricians. The fund will donate extra money to the work with covid-19.

The Health Pooled Fund (HPF) is responsible for the country's action plan to meet covid-19. In addition to the planned work, the fund is flexible and ready to transfer money to covid-19 contributions.

Published: April 7, 2020