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The Ebola crisis has highlighted significant gaps in the worldwide healthcare system. And while the crisis is ongoing—with no clear end in sight—this recent epidemic should spark a renewed conversation about the state of healthcare logistics across the globe.
Recent cases in the US and Europe have highlighted the challenges of containing such outbreaks both in the developing world—where it already seems out of control—and the developed world—where it can be extremely difficult to track.
But a vigorous healthcare logistics system needs to be more agile than one that lurches from crisis to crisis. As the world changes, so too must healthcare evolve.
Some of the challenges affecting healthcare may not seem obvious. For instance, as healthcare systems in Europe focus more on ramping up their efficiency, the number of hospital beds needed is decreasing.
"A vigorous healthcare logistics system needs to be more agile than one that lurches from crisis to crisis"
Yet as healthcare delivery improves, costs can also go up as the population ages, since older people need more medical services. The silvering population and the expanding middle class are both driving the rise in chronic disease.
Indeed, spending on healthcare is expected to increase nearly 90%, or about $1.7 trillion, across the world’s top 750 cities between now and 2030, according to Oxford Economics.
There’s a flipside to this story, however. As the populations begin to gray in Europe and the Americas, countries like Indonesia, India, and Nigeria will seem to be global fountains of youth, with relatively high birth rates.
While this population explosion will certainly help cities grow, it also has its downsides—especially in poorer countries, as the difficulty in containing the Ebola outbreak demonstrates.
In poorer nations, the lack of basic infrastructure poses serious obstacles to successfully containing the outbreak. In Liberia, for instance, roads are in such a state of disrepair that it can take 14 hours to travel 190 miles—a trip that would take about four hours in a developed country.
Imagine trying to get a stricken patient to the hospital under such conditions.
With basic infrastructure so underdeveloped, solving complex problems—like distributing medical supplies and setting up treatment centers—becomes even more challenging.
Thankfully, developed countries are stepping up to the plate.
The US is helping to construct Ebola Treatment Centers and provide military support and medical advisors, the United Nation’s World Food Program (WFP) is contributing vehicles, and other countries and charitable organizations are offering significant monetary and logistical support.
All of this is admirable—and necessary. But this latest health crisis should be a wake-up call for countries worldwide. The world is changing, fast. It is becoming ever more interconnected.
Old models of healthcare and logistics are clearly no longer viable as nations scramble to contain the Ebola outbreak. Cities of the future will have to take into account not only their shifting demographics, but will also have to develop risk scenarios to prepare for the worst.
Now is the time for countries, both mature and emerging, as well as private sector and NGOs to invest for future growth.
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