A disease like Covid-19 exploits all the vulnerabilities that are present for individuals, communities and health systems, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program, said during a media briefing in Geneva on Thursday.
“A disease like this exploits all of the vulnerabilities – and the underlying vulnerabilities – that individuals, communities and health systems have. We’ve seen that,” Ryan said.
“We've seen how this disease impacts on people who are marginalized and have underlying health conditions. We've seen how this impacts on people who don't have access to basic health care services in terms of diagnostics and treatment. And we've seen how this impacts in areas in which the health infrastructure is poorly invested,” he said.
Ryan also said that there have been hospital systems that have collapsed and huge queues of people who haven’t been able to access health care.
He described health as not a reward for development, but as a primary investment in the security of communities, states and economies.
Epidemics, Ryan said, are a “massive stress test for the system.” In a short period of time, they place much of the system under stress. The ability of the system to absorb the stress determines the damage that is done.
He compared this situation to building a house, saying that if you build a house well and with the view that a storm might come, it will be able to withstand the storm.
“If the storm comes and your house is not prepared, then you may lose your house,” he said. “And I think that’s what we’re seeing in these situations in many, many countries.”
Epidemics themselves cause a major impact, which is amplified by weaknesses in the underlying health infrastructure, Ryan said.
“And we’re paying a heavy price, again, for the lack of that investment.”