Georgia’s Old and New Public Health Challenges Demand Coordinated Response
COVID-19 pandemic put Georgia’s public health system to a hard test. The crisis brought overlooked problems and persistent challenges to the surface, showing the urgency of coordinated response and reforms.
The steps undertaken in recent years to strengthen the public health system turned out insufficient in the face of the pandemic. To achieve a more functional management system, novel visions are needed to revisit the problem and bring about fundamental changes.
For higher efficiency, the public health system must evaluate existing challenges at individual, community, and regional levels and be able to adapt to new problems. It also needs to assess potential threats, develop sustainable risk response systems, and prompt behavior change in the public.
But while it is the government’s responsibility to protect public health, reaching the goals gets harder without the engagement of local community organizations or non-governmental actors. Such actors may make a huge difference in handling various public needs or diverse challenges and services across the regions.
In this context, the United Nations Association of Georgia (UNAG) signed in 2020 a memorandum of cooperation with the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC), the state agency tasked with public health management. UNAG and NCDC started working together to achieve progress in several directions, including promoting health education, prevention and control of transmissible and non-transmissible diseases, mitigation of risk factors, healthcare support, and increased access to medical services.
The cooperation also led to the development of the public health direction strategy and helped set new goals that include public health advocacy, improved communication with people, informative and awareness-raising campaign activities, and social mobilization. In addition, right at the onset of the pandemic, UNAG started supporting and empowering state institutions to develop and implement effective mechanisms for risk communication.
Risk communication is an integral and important part of risk management, while effective response depends on the awareness among people and their engagement at all levels of risk management. Such responses require all sectors to act together while considering local context. For risk communication to be effective, coordinated actions are needed both at regional and global levels.
Numerous public health activities UNAG carried out across the nation under the pandemic provided better insight into the existing challenges.
Observations and data collected during this time demonstrated that vertical management is the most critical problem the healthcare system is currently facing. Primary healthcare and public health units at the regional level are often shut out of the decision-making processes, they rarely make independent decisions, fail to share the responsibility, and sometimes have no information about their duties and responsibilities. The studies performed by UNAG have further confirmed this trend.
But still much remains to be done, and the non-state actors, too, will be needed to continue to play their part in achieving progress in public health management. UNA Georgia, too, plans to keep organizing healthcare advocacy projects. The advocacy efforts will cover disease prevention, promotion of a healthy lifestyle, and protection of people from the malign impact of physical, chemical, biological, and psychophysiological hazards.
In these efforts, UNAG continues to work with local and international organizations, as well as state and non-governmental agencies. Pandemic is still here, and the virus has repeatedly demonstrated the urgency to seek creative, comprehensive, and multi-actor solutions to mounting public health challenges.
Zurab Alkhanishvili, Public Health Programs Coordinator, UNA Georgia