What did you do during your assessments?
Some of the countries neighbouring China lack the robust medical infrastructure and effective systems to respond to emergencies like the current outbreak of COVID-19. We discussed contingency plans with hospital staff, including stocking the correct materials, and concrete step-by-step guidance for how to support patients and communities once cases of COVID-19 are diagnosed. Gathering evidence-based epidemiological information and appropriate training are an essential part of such preparations.
Why are countries with weak health systems particularly vulnerable during such outbreaks?
There are fewer doctors and nurses to take care of the population and they often have limited stocks of drugs and medical equipment. While they can cope with the daily medical challenges they face, they do not have the resources to respond to an additional crisis.
In some places, the laboratories have limited capacity to carry out tests to confirm infections. However, in northern Laos, I was impressed to see how medical staff had developed strategies in case patients suspected of having COVID-19 arrive at their hospital, in spite of their limited resources. For the time being – with the border to China closed – it seems they can get by. It remains to be seen what will happen once the border crossings open again.