4 healthcare leaders on how to transform global health systems post-pandemic

Healthcare leaders must both build a more resilient and sustainable health system while ensuring greater equity of access.
Healthcare leaders must both build a more resilient and sustainable health system while ensuring greater equity of access.
Image: Reuters/Shelley Christians
  • Already at crisis point pre-pandemic, global health systems are in need of urgent transformation.
  • Health leaders must both build a more resilient and sustainable health system while ensuring greater equity of access.
  • The World Economic Forum's Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience aims to foster collaborations across sectors and borders.

As we approach the fourth year of the COVID-19 pandemic and convene at the Annual Meeting in Davos 2023, health and healthcare topics remain high on the agenda.

Health systems were already reaching a crisis point before the pandemic – from ageing populations and the rise in non-communicable diseases to staffing shortages and vast inequities to access quality healthcare. So, today even more so, there remains an urgent need to transform health and healthcare systems and how care is delivered.

Launched in 2020 at the World Economic Forum, the Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience (PHSSR) is dedicated to collaborating across sectors and borders to build more resilient and sustainable health systems for the future by providing tools and resources for research, a focal point for collaboration and knowledge exchange within and between countries

Four leaders share their views on the importance of this partnership and opportunities for strengthening global health systems through public-private collaboration:

'Health is an asset to invest in, not a cost to minimize'

Leif Johansson, Non-Executive Chair of the Board, AstraZeneca

As we face global economic uncertainty, coupled with growing and ageing populations, a rise in non-communicable diseases and climate change, there is one thing that remains certain – the need to prioritize and invest in our health systems. While the pandemic shifted progress in the prioritization of health more generally, there is a need for all stakeholders, from civil society to innovators and governments to think and act strategically.

Concentrating our efforts on prevention and managing diseases in their early stages is one way we can do this. We must view health as a strategic asset to invest in, rather than a cost to minimize.

We also know that climate change is the greatest health threat of the 21st century. Health systems have an important role to play in accelerating the delivery of net-zero healthcare, and it is only by working in partnership across the sector and beyond that we can drive scalable change.

We need to lay a stronger foundation for population health and our health systems and invest in our future, as this will bring considerable benefits to society. Healthier people drive healthier economies and a healthier planet.

While the pandemic shifted progress in the prioritization of health generally, there is a need for all stakeholders to think and act strategically.

—Leif Johansson, Non-Executive Chair of the Board, AstraZeneca

'Healthcare technology must do more than just "fix" people'

Roy Jakobs, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Philips

The pandemic and subsequent crises around the world have turned a harsh spotlight on the deficiencies of our global health systems. There is unprecedented pressure on these systems to tackle a growing range of issues – from rising costs due to inflationary pressures and supply chain disruption, to staffing shortages and patient backlog.

The PHSSR research highlights important lessons that will help strengthen countries’ preparedness, response and approach to future health challenges. The findings highlight a few critical themes including the role of data and technology in improving the quality of care and reducing global health inequities, and also the importance of addressing the impact of the climate crisis on human health.

Philips’ driving force is to improve people's health and well-being through innovation, and enable better, more sustainable care. We believe that healthcare technology must do more than just “fix” people; it needs to build resilience and sustainability into health systems, improving access to care for everyone so they can receive the care they need, when they need it.

We also believe that we can only create better and more equitable outcomes through meaningful collaborations like the PHSSR, which brings together cross-sector, cross-border stakeholders offering perspectives from academia, civil society, and the public and private spheres.

This is a momentous opportunity for us to determine – as a collective – how to concretely build on this research and invest in making our health systems more resilient and sustainable.

We can only create more equitable outcomes through meaningful collaborations like the PHSSR, which brings together cross-sector and cross-border stakeholders offering perspectives from academia, civil society, and the public and private spheres.

—Roy Jakobs, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Philips

'Shining a light on the fragilities in our health systems means looking at how they are led'

Baroness Minouche Shafik, President and Vice-Chancellor, London School of Economics

Health systems are there to protect us. As individuals, they protect us from the risk of ill health, and the risk of financial catastrophe when we do fall ill. They are one of the foundations of a healthy society and a prosperous economy. And when a crisis hits, we need them to stand firm.

But health systems themselves – and the people who work in them – have been strained to their limits. If COVID-19 has tested their resilience, their very sustainability is now being challenged.

At a country level, we need to shine a light on the fragilities in our health systems so that we can address them in a strategic way. This means looking seriously at how they are led and governed, and it means ensuring that they are financed sustainably, so that they can provide equal access for all who need care, regardless of their financial means.

We need to ensure that we are training enough people, equipping them with the right skills, and supporting them to thrive and work to their full potential. We need to take opportunities to make better use of data, and to plan and deliver care in a more effective, efficient and person-centred way.

And yes, we need to bolster health systems against the effects of climate change, but we also need to ensure that the health sector – which is a major contributor to global emissions – is playing its own part in that global effort.

Finally, we need to acknowledge that creating healthy, resilient societies requires action far beyond the health system, and act accordingly. This is a long-term, collective endeavour. International and inter-sectoral collaboration is one of the most powerful tools we have to address these challenges. This encapsulates PHSSR’s mission. It is all about creating and sharing new knowledge to inform action.

Health systems are there to protect us from the risk of ill health, and the risk of financial catastrophe when we do fall ill. And when a crisis hits, we need them to stand firm.

—Baroness Minouche Shafik, President and Vice-Chancellor, London School of Economics

'Transformation efforts should move the needle from cure to prevention'

Dr. Anna van Poucke, Global Head of Healthcare, KPMG International

COVID-19 and its impacts aside, healthcare systems around the world are under ever-growing pressure. PHSSR research from 21 jurisdictions revealed that healthcare systems are suffering from longer-term sustainability and resilience issues, such as a lack of integration between different levels of service provision, along with underfunded primary care, community services and health promotion initiatives.

There is also a general workforce shortage resulting in people in remote and rural areas being underserved. Many healthcare systems have not been able to use health data to drive evidence-informed decision-making, policy evaluation and learning due to a lack of interoperability between disparate electronic health records systems. Combined, these sustainability and resilience issues are leading to increasing degrees of health inequity across the globe.

To create truly sustainable and resilient healthcare systems, system-wide transformation is needed. Transformation efforts should focus on strengthening service integration and primary care, moving the needle from curing to prevention and early intervention. Initiatives are also needed to strengthen workforces, with a focus on the nursing profession.

High-quality data and better data use are fundamental to addressing health system challenges and the issue of health inequity. All in all, transformation of such magnitude will require collaboration at the ecosystem level between all stakeholders, including governments, public and private providers, healthcare payors and industry groups.

Many healthcare systems have not been able to use health data to drive evidence-informed decision-making, policy evaluation and learning

—Dr. Anna van Poucke, Global Head of Healthcare, KPMG International

The PHSSR is a collaboration between AstraZeneca, KPMG, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Royal Philips, the World Economic Forum, the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience & Innovation (CAPRI) and the WHO Foundation, motivated by a shared commitment to strengthen health systems and improve population health. AstraZeneca, KPMG and Royal Philips fund the partnership.

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