Here are some elements for systems leadership to end the COVID-19 pandemic. We will need to identify and engage those who are ready to step up and lead this epic struggle.
No regrets strategies that put people first and leave no-one behind. Accessible testing readily available. Highly organized public health action involving people and government working together. Everyone focusing on ways to reduce exposure and support those who are infected. No blaming individuals who are infected themselves or infect others.
Supporting each other through these tough times, especially those whose livelihoods are undermined as a result of control efforts. Sharing and debating our anxieties and concerns in an open and supportive way. Recognizing that even if cases are not being reported from a location or community there may still be transmission underway. COVID-19 is amongst us all, it is not somewhere far away. But we can make a difference to the scale, intensity and impact of the pandemic.
Being strong: this work will last for the next six months at least. It will be a dominant feature of all our lives. We must carry each other through it. Hospitals will become our most precious resource to be nurtured and used with care. Comprehensive, well-organized and collective efforts, backed by adequate finance, are essential. Health workers are key and must receive all our support.
Caring for everyone. What will happen to small businesses that do less well if people prefer to stay at home and not venture out? What are the prospects for those who work in hospitality, retail, caring and service sectors which require contact with people? Life will be hard especially if they have no insurance. The custodial sector will face challenges too. Low-paid people will face economic hardship because of contraction in labour markets. Economies will be stressed: the poorest will face massive challenges as employment tightens. We must be inventive and leave no-one behind.
Being challenged again and again. It is not a simple choice between “fear and panic versus business as usual”. The best leaders will be able to combine their attention on people’s health, wellbeing and livelihoods, and chart a path that has meaning for all. Now is the time for them all to stand up: they will help us all navigate into the future.
Prioritizing together working for the public good. No political point scoring, no falsehoods, no undermining. Fragmentation means more people hurt, more societal damage. Leaders are accountable and the virus will show if they are failing us. The damage caused by this pandemic will be minimised through communication, inclusion, organisation, cooperation, coordination, innovation, openness, transparency and more. The pandemic will be exacerbated if there is name-calling, suspicion, fear, exploitation and obstruction.
Drawing on the strengths of all people and make the best use of all the assets at their collective disposal. Prioritize those most in need. Prevent market manipulation and hoarding. Explain what they do, share their data and encourage others to grow.
Keep learning. The world has never faced an infectious respiratory disease like COVID-19 before. It has only been with us for three months and we are all learning about it quickly. We know it differs from influenza or Ebola virus disease. We see it hurting people, disrupting societies and damaging economies. We have also seen that outbreaks can be contained, limited and stopped. We are helped by generous sharing of experience by countries as well as widespread debate about what to expect in different media. We see a multi-centred research effort underway though it will be some months before safe and effective vaccines or therapies are widely available. Most importantly, we see that people are ready to contribute to the response and want to do so in ways that have the greatest benefit – for them and for society.
Anticipate: think “How will the pandemic evolve? How are we to get ready for what is around the corner? How will we implement the right measures rigorously when they are needed?
Keep checking the things that matter, relentlessly. How to prepare people so they know what to do to be safe? How to organize and test community health services? How to ensure that those in need get the health care they require? How to sustain livelihoods for those whose economies are collapsing? The faster and more robust the action taken, the greater chance of halting the pandemic quickly.
Be international – this virus does the not respect national boundaries. All people of all nations must be involved irrespective of the extent to which their people are touched by this epidemic. Concerted efforts by the leaders of each nation are vital if we are to avert months – even years – of disruption to lives and livelihoods.
Bring people on board and connect with them throughout the pandemic. Tune into people’s hopes and anxieties, regularly and without being defensive. Meet people where they are and sense their rhythm. Seek to understand their perspectives and worldview. Foster trust build confidence and defuse anxiety. Use their voices to unite all sections of society so they act together to contain the pandemic.
Find resources everywhere: from subnational authorities, religious groups, societal organizations, professional bodies, media, sports, entertainment, schools, universities and more. Help them appreciate the importance of hand hygiene, cough etiquette and distancing. Work together in identifying why society-wide measures – such as reducing gatherings or curtailing movement – may need to be introduced. Do it together so that it is our collective effort that halts the pandemic.
Encourage seamless action and reaction: coordinated and robust responses that are implemented seamlessly with a view to maximum impact from the start.Err on the side of caution: the pandemic will win if we are complacent or half-hearted. Ensure thatemergency protocols are activated and working. Check that all involved know what is expected of them and are ready to implement. Set up coordination systems that work. Match response to challenge, repurposing people and money, re-assigning roles and responsibilities.
Encourage all to innovate, take risks and use initiative, not to be scared and risk averse. Treasure front-line responders – especially public health and hospital workers – as they are key to responding. Review progress regularly – together – so that all see the needs and adapt. Encourage – and do not penalize – those who must make difficult judgements using incomplete information even if subsequently they seem to have erred.
Maintain a regular rhythm of information, so that the people are with you. Set up hotlines that work and virtual forums that all can access to share information and reinforce public health services. Ensure people can access COVID-19 diagnostic testing and treatment, as well as treatment for other health conditions. Value health workers who are especially exposed both to the virus and to people’s anxieties.
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