OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

The Key to Medicine Resilience Is Continued Access for All Americans

A critical foundational element of any effective health care system is ensuring access to proper care. However, this is something many take for granted. Another element we take for granted? That life-saving medicines will be there when we need them. We live in an era of antibiotics, vaccines and other life-sustaining medicines, and we should not forget that they are fundamental to our communities’ resilience and protection before, during and after a natural disaster, outbreak, or emergency event.

In health care and emergency preparedness we typically focus on what happens in the aftermath of an event, but as the field continues to learn more we are realizing the need for an increased and constant focus on Americans’ readiness and resilience. That is why many health care organizations are turning their sights to medicine resilience, finding solutions to ensure that patients have access to life-sustaining medicines during an emergency, a topic Healthcare Ready is making a top priority in 2017.

Medicine resilience and ensuring sustained and easy access to medical treatments and protective vaccines is as critical as any health care topic in communities large and small across the United States. The Mayo Clinic reports that nearly 70 percent of Americans take at least one prescription medicine and more than half of Americans take two medications, demonstrating how widespread the need for medicine resilience is. The reality is that during an outbreak or disaster, a large portion of the affected community will be dependent on some medication or prescription to maintain their health.  

Also key to creating real medicine resilience is to make sure the health care community and innovative biomedical industry creates new treatments and vaccines to guarantee that we have a strong pipeline.

Private companies and federal organizations are working together to try to address these issues through several initiatives and partnerships. Some notable partnerships include The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and PATH, which work to improve access to vaccines and treatments to people around the world. Recently, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, there was a $460 million partnership announced to support an initiative to create vaccines to respond to global disease outbreaks. This funding will also support the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, another public-private partnership to accelerate the development of medicines and vaccines to thwart pandemics.

What can the private sector and everyday citizens do to contribute to these resilience efforts? First, more people must be made aware of and engaged with the work being done to help improve widespread access to medications and vaccines to ensure continuous protection and treatment for citizens during an emergency event where access could be disrupted. Second, it is vital that more people from a variety of backgrounds participate in clinical trials and understand the critical role that medicines play in protecting our communities. It is easy to forget how important clinical trials are until the relatively convenient access to medicine, vaccines and antibiotics that so many of us are accustomed to is interrupted.

The ongoing discussions about the future of the Affordable Care Act have led to a national conversation about the role of health care in our country. Regardless of the future of this particular legislation, whether there is a “repeal or replace” or a comprehensive modification of the ACA, there is a pressing need to consider the role that medicines and medical products play in our everyday lives. Most important to this effort is opening discussions of how to safeguard and ensure access to critical treatments, especially during an emergency.

 

Emily Lord is the executive director of Healthcare Ready. She provides strategic guidance and oversight to programs that build community health resilience in times of disaster or pandemic outbreaks.

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