December 02, 2020

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has tested healthcare systems across the globe. Governments continue to manage the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring the availability of healthcare resources which vary by country. There are a number of factors to consider when understanding the viability of global healthcare systems and their ability to respond to the pandemic efficiently. 

The healthcare capacity of a country often dictates that country’s wellness and its ability to serve its population's needs and expectations. A healthcare system’s performance is measured in several ways, particularly the mortality rate, number of staff employed, and length of hospital stay. Other indicators include a country’s ability to provide enough healthcare facilities with trained healthcare professionals in place and the right equipment, working together efficiently. This is especially crucial during a pandemic when both local and international resources are disrupted.

Medics with personal protective equipment

During a pandemic like COVID-19, governments need to plan for a surge in the capacity of healthcare facilities to determine the ability of the current healthcare system to expand and adapt to the additional patient load. Hospitals are designed for average patient load and not the scale of pandemics.

For health systems to be efficient during this pandemic, there are several factors which need to be in place:


Healthcare System

A country’s healthcare system's primary role is to improve individuals' health and meet their healthcare needs. This is facilitated by clinics and hospitals; people for example doctors and nurses; and resources such as hospital beds. Healthcare systems greatly impact the economy, development, and level of industrialization. Therefore, the health of a country is dictated by how well the health system is performing. Factors influencing a healthcare system's performance are health expenditure – the portion of budget spent on health services – resources such as people and medical equipment. The delivery of healthcare services can be at the primary, secondary, or tertiary level; and can be privately funded i.e., medical aid schemes paid by individuals and/or publicly funded i.e., health services paid by the government. Every healthcare system should contain six components or “building blocks,” namely, service delivery, healthcare workforce, health information system, access to essential medicines, financing, and leadership/governance. These building blocks assist in strengthening the health system; thus, all six should work in tandem to ensure that the health needs of the population are met.


       Healthcare Expenditure

Healthcare expenditure includes purchasing goods like surgical masks and providing services ranging from preventative measures such as vaccinations to curative (surgery), emergency medical services (ambulance availability), and health administration – the management of hospitals, healthcare networks, and healthcare systems. It is viewed as investing in human capital, which is essential for economic growth. If individuals' physical and mental well-being is taken care of, they will be more productive in the workplace or as entrepreneurs.



The resources needed to ensure an effective health system include people – doctors, nurses, health administrators, etc. -, medical equipment such as personal protective equipment and supplies, medicines, physical infrastructure such as hospitals, and service availability.


       Primary Healthcare

Primary healthcare is a whole-of-society approach to health by focusing on the needs and preferences of individuals, families, and communities from birth and is not focused on treating a specific disease. Therefore, primary healthcare ensures that individuals receive holistic care ranging from preventative care, rehabilitative, and palliative care. It has been proven to be effective and efficient in treating the leading causes and risks of poor health and preventing health threats such as epidemics.



Certain population groups are more vulnerable than others. These groups are at greater risk of having poor health, limited access to healthcare, and experience significant disparity in life expectancy. Their health needs are influenced by the social and economic conditions of their environment.  For example, older individuals aged 60 and above are classified as a vulnerable population.


Government Response

Even if a country has all the resources required to ensure the health of its people, leadership, governance, and political will greatly impact the operation and performance of a health system. Good governance is needed to ensure that all the building blocks of a health system are effectively managed to meet individuals' needs. Governance relates to governments and health authorities such as the World Health Organization, UN, and UNICEF.

COVID-19 has stressed healthcare systems around the world. A number of factors contribute to understanding the capacity of health care systems. Subscribe to Worldcue®Intel Central for country-specific health assessments.