It’s astonishing that something as devastating as the novel coronavirus could have a positive impact. That’s exactly what’s happening in Suriname, though, as the developing country’s COVID-19 response is helping the country improve its health system. The nation, according to the World Health Organization, will “come out stronger from COVID-19.
A Tropical Rainforest Country
Roughly 90 percent of Suriname’s landmass is considered a tropical rainforest. About 80 percent of the population lives in the country’s narrow coastal plain in the north, but the interior comprises around 80 percent of the country’s territory. One of the many challenges the health system of this developing nation faces is that the most remote villages of Suriname are home to indigenous communities lacking effective primary health care. These people lack proper hygiene and sanitation options, let alone access to quality health care.
The COVID-19 response in Suriname is highlighting these gaps, and others, in the health system. Although Suriname passed a National Basic Health Insurance Law in 2014 to provide health care to all residents of the country, a severe shortage of trained medical personnel has dampened the law’s effectiveness. All told, the small health workforce in Suriname has 43 primary health clinics and 150 private primary care clinics. These are only accessible to the population in the coastal area. The system only supported a mere eight physicians and 23 nurses for every 10,000 people.
Lonely Planet points out that “Paramibo has “excellent health care, with modern hospitals.” The travel site points out, however, that proper health care is more difficult to find elsewhere along the coast, and it’s just not available at all in the nation’s interior. Furthermore, while treatment is generally inexpensive, at least by our standards, prices skyrocket when you go to a private facility, without the expected increase in quality of care.
The health infrastructure is still under development, and the country’s emergency response capacity is limited, to say the least. A faith-based organization named Medical Mission gets government funding to manage primary health clinics in the country’s interior, but there were only 56 of those before the COVID-19 response began.
Rising to the Challenge Through the COVID-19 Response
By the time the nation emerges from the pandemic, though, the country will be poised to be an example of what universal health can accomplish, even in a short amount of time. Suriname’s government is responding by engaging health care partners to build the infrastructure to lay a strong foundation for universal health coverage, even in these isolated villages.
Since the beginning of 2020, the World Health Organization has utilized its Univeral Health Care (UHC) Partnership to support Suriname’s efforts to strengthen its health system. The plan? Universal health coverage for the entire nation to help save lives, protect health care workers, slow the spread of the coronavirus, and strengthen the nation’s epidemic intelligence.
European and Japanese Support for Suriname’s COVID-19 Response
Achieving universal health coverage doesn’t come cheap, and it’s something developing nations cannot usually pull off on their own. With that in mind, WHO is drawing on financial assistance from most of Europe. The European Union, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Irish Aid, the Government of Japan, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the UK Department for International Development, and Belgium have teamed up to make UHC a reality for Suriname.
The build-out of a revamped health system has given Suriname a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to forge a new path to public health. The remote villages that have struggled for years to have proper health services will see a radical improvement in their quality of life, as the country recruits more physicians, nurses, and other health care workers to reach even deep into the rainforests to provide medical services.
Current Events Shaping Suriname’s Future
Needing to respond quickly to the devastation of COVID-19, Suriname has been given the opportunity to build a stronger health system. They are developing a system that will be far more resilient to natural disasters, epidemics, and other shocks. Ultimately, Suriname will be able to provide quality health care to all of its citizens, including the vulnerable populations isolated from most of society.
The government’s approach is strategically designed to save lives and address urgent needs, while at the same time building up a strong foundation of universal health coverage that will serve the nation well into the future. There haven’t been many positives to come from the COVID-19 response, but Suriname is benefitting tremendously from the virus’s onslaught. It’s certainly encouraging to see positive outcomes from the pandemic, as most of the world deals with the fear of never being able to live a healthy life again.