COVID's impact on health system reforms

As Australian states and countries in the region, which managed to contain Covid-19 in 2020, work to contain outbreaks of variants, we have been in awe of the commitment and fearlessness of health workers and policy makers. These heroes  have been working around the clock on designing and implementing public health measures, ensuring the continuation of routine services and leading the vaccination rollout.

How have health systems been able to continue to deliver services during the pandemic? Over the past 12 months, Health Systems, Governance and Financing researchers  have worked on a range of evaluations and applied research projects to understand the impact of the pandemic, and the health system reforms that enabled services to adapt.

In 2020 we were commissioned to undertake the first evaluation of Women’s Health Victoria’s sexual and reproductive health information service, 1800 My Options. We found the service provided women, including those from economically disadvantaged groups, with pathways to accessing essential services both before and during the pandemic. Our research showed how 1800 My Options also strengthened coordination between service providers, which proved vital in ensuring continued access to services during the pandemic.

The team also evaluated the Royal Australian College of Surgeon’s Pacific Island program (PIP). The program supports the delivery of specialised surgery in countries across the Pacific and builds local medical and nursing capacity in surgery. The PIP adapted to COVID imposed travel restrictions by switching to online and remote mentoring of the surgical workforce. These changes hold significant lessons for the next phase of the program.

We have been engaged in an evaluation of a maternal and child health program in Papua New Guinea and will be undertaking a similar evaluation across the rest of the Pacific Island countries in the second half of the year.

We look forward to see the lessons that emerge from these evaluations for these vital services moving forward in the COVID normal era.

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Katherine Gilbert