Global preparedness for COVID-19

19th July 2021

Dr Sabah Boufkhed and Professor Richard Harding have been leading global assessments of the preparedness and capacity to respond to COVID-19 of palliative care services in Africa, Middle-East and North Africa, India and Asia-Pacific, using the WHO’s International Health Regulations.  The work features in the World Health Organization Bulletin next month.  

The team carried out four surveys to find out about the palliative care global response to COVID-19, building on CSI partnerships and previous work in Italy and the UK they worked in collaboration with the African Palliative Care Association, WHO-Eastern Mediterranean Region’s network for palliative Care, the Indian Association for Palliative Care and the Asia Pacific Hospice Palliative Care Network to adapt and conduct the online survey of 301 respondents in 50 countries.   

The team reported several strengths in adapting services and maintaining resilience by using technology to communicate with staff and patients and provide remote care.  They were also able to provide symptom management and psychological support and training to non-palliative care healthcare workers. However there were high levels of staff anxiety reported, and limited support in managing stress and anxiety.   There were also financial concerns limiting capacity to provide training resources to non-specialists.  A third of all respondents reported concerns about infection control, with basic hygiene essentials such as disinfectant, soap and running water being top concerns in Africa, Middle East and North Africa and India.  The top concerns in Asia-Pacific were about face masks and temperature monitoring equipment.  In Africa half of the respondents reported safety and security concerns and the potential risk of violence.

The researchers identified that structural improvements such as protective equipment and water and sanitation infrastructure are urgently needed.  Protocols aimed at caring for dying COVID patients and their families are needed and shifting to electronic systems where possible will improve health information systems and facilitate rapid contact-tracing in case of an outbreak.   

Afolabi OA, Abboah-Offei M, Namisango E, Chukwusa E, Oluyase OA, Luyirika EBK, Harding R and Nkhoma K. COVID-19 and the urgency of strengthening palliative care in Africa. 2021. Bulletin of the World Health Organization (In press)

This research was made possible thanks to funding through the UK Research and Innovation GCRF Research for Health in Conflict (R4HC-MENA); developing capability, partnerships and research in the Middle and Near East (MENA) ES/P010962/1.