Regional experts met to discuss challenges faced by healthcare systems, and the post-pandemic landscape they expect to see, in the panel session "Evaluating the transformation of Latin America's healthcare system after the COVID-19 pandemic" at Omnia Health Live.
Ruben Torres, dean of ISALUD university in Argentina, emphasised that while most nations are committed to pursuing universal health coverage, few have achieved results. “It depends on the political will of the leaders we have. There are only two possibilities: either we continue heading towards universal health coverage or we continue as before.”
If we want to bring about real change, we must review financial conditions, Torres said. Likewise, he pointed out that the care model must be worked on and primary care must be transformed by creating comprehensive and integrated networks of health services.
Technology and comorbidities
According to Ignacio García Téllez, Director Health Industry at KPMG Mexico, cancer and cardiovascular problems account for 82% mortality in Latin American populations
He emphasised that the region should focus on other growing health concerns. “To attack this type of problem, we need to improve the way in which medical device and pharmaceutical industries connect with the health system,” said Garcia Tellez.
He added that the most important factor for quality and effective healthcare is the human health professional. However, technology is also important, as it helps with the prevention, early diagnosis, treatment and control of disease.
The KPMG specialist further stated that the reconfiguration of the care model must take into account the use of technology and that it must offer solutions that integrate professional skills.
In Southeast Asia, for example, telemedicine and applications are used to monitor patients and treatments. He added that in other countries, such as Colombia, Chile and Mexico, remote surgery has been introduced.
Another problem the industry has faced is disruption to the supply chain, especially coming from India or China - so Latin America will need to strengthen its pharmaceutical industry.
In addition, while the manufacturing of ventilators and other devices such as diagnostic tests has been accelerated by COVID-19, this will not last forever. Experts will need to focus on treating risk factors faced by the population.
José Alarcón Irigoyen, external consultant and technical advisor to the Health Commission of the Business Coordinating Council (CCE) assured that, regardless of the health system, opportunities can be seen in Latin America.
“We need to see the COVID-19 crisis as a motive for making structural changes,” stressed Alarcon Irigoyen.
In terms of structural changes, Guillaume Corpart, CEO of Global Health Intelligence, said that the use of technology is paramount, such as AI or telemedicine, which makes it possible to see patients in remote and inaccessible places. In addition, he pointed out that Chile is a leader in the use of this tool, and that it practically rivals the US in its use.
Countries at a disadvantage
Carla Castillo Laborde, a researcher at the Centre for Epidemiology and Health Policies-CEPS at Desarrollo University in Chile, warned that Chile is a clear example of a fragmented health system. With 19 million inhabitants and 16 regions, Chile has numerous isolated and rural areas which are sometimes impossible to reach.
The researcher highlighted that inequality in Chile resulted in a social crisis beginning in mid-October 2019, leading to political mistrust. He also pointed out that Chile has an important public sector, where 80 percent serve the population.
In Chile there is also structural deficit. “There are 2.5 doctors per 1000 inhabitants, compared to 3.5 on average in the OECD. There are 2.1 hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants, when the average in the OECD is 4.7 – so this is a significant deficit, “ Castillo explained.
As in other countries in the region, the greatest number of COVID-19 cases are found in the metropolitan area, in the city of Santiago. “Almost 80 percent of cases and 86 percent of deaths are concentrated in the metropolitan area. In that region we have overcrowded areas, mostly in the poorest part,” said the researcher.
As in other parts of Latin America, Chilean health systems were already stretched. Guillaume Corpart pointed out that the most recent data from Chile shows that the hospital occupancy rate exceeds 90 percent.
“Meanwhile, access to consultations is below 60 percent. People are afraid to visit the doctor, and at the same hospitals are saturated when it comes to number of beds, and I’m sure it’s the entire region – this is not unique to Chile,” said Corpart.
Carla Castillo suggested that the pandemic took Latin America by surprise because it’s at a disadvantage compared to other European or developed countries. “We have to respond with what we have,” said the researcher, pointing out the lack of resources in the region.
To face the pandemic, it’s important to track cases and isolate them, but in a fragmented health system that represents a real challenge, since there are at least two sectors and the private sector is not controlled by the authorities.