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This article was written exclusively for The European Sting by Mr. Wireko Joseph Agyei, a 3rd year medical laboratory science student at the University of Energy and Natural Resources, Sunyani, Ghana. It is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), a cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this article belong strictly to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IFMSA on the subject, nor that of The European Sting.

The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the world into a major crisis and highlighted the ability of health systems to withstand the shock of pandemics. As a result, health facilities and medical professionals have been overburdened. So there are demands for more resources and innovative ways to make health systems more resilient and responsive.

Chronic diseases seem to be on the back burner despite statistics showing that chronic diseases and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are responsible for several deaths from COVID-19 and deserve more resources and action plans. In fact, chronic diseases and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart and kidney disease are the main drivers of COVID-19 related deaths. Greater attention should be paid to these diseases in the midst of a pandemic.

Access to high quality, appropriate and universal health care (UHC) remains a mirage for many people living with chronic conditions, especially vulnerable people in poor countries with poor health care systems. The pandemic has further worsened the conditions of these people and negatively impacted already fragile health systems in poor countries. Even well-developed and resourced health systems are reeling from the negative impact of the pandemic.

It is therefore very important to make health systems more resilient, especially during and after the pandemic. Ways to achieve these goals include: providing more resources that countries and international organizations need to improve health systems; provide incentives to health professionals to make them more resilient and dedicated to duty; train more health professionals to meet the demands of the times, among others.

Medical students have a role to play in efforts to make health systems more resilient to effectively manage chronic diseases during the pandemic, supporting the process through advocacy, to achieve the desired goals.
Their advocacy should ensure that policy makers around the world are aware that accessibility and affordability of health care must go hand in hand if a country is to achieve UHC, especially for people with chronic conditions. They should also advocate for and support reforms to put chronic diseases and other non-communicable diseases at the top of the agenda of governments, civil society and international organizations such as the World Health Organization.
Additionally, medical students should advocate for bringing health care closer to people living with chronic diseases, improving the quality of health care and making it affordable for all. People diagnosed with chronic conditions should be supported if they cannot afford treatment.

Above all, they should advocate for the need to ensure that no one’s health is left behind during the pandemic.

In striving to build more resilient health systems, it is paramount that policy makers everywhere invest in health systems for all, especially prioritizing chronic diseases, if more lives are to be saved during and beyond the pandemic.

About the Author

Wireko Joseph Agyei is a 3rd year Medical Laboratory Science student at the University of Energy and Natural Resources, Sunyani, Ghana. It is a member of the European Climate Pact. He is also a member of the Open Dialogue on Climate Change.