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COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights Flaws in Healthcare Systems — Professor Darzi

COVID-19 exposed the structural and functional deficiencies in global healthcare systems, highlighting the need to challenge the status quo, according to a lecture by Professor the Lord Darzi of Denham.

His lecture, titled “Innovating Our Way Out of COVID”, was the second in the Dean’s Lecture Series inviting global health leaders to deliver their ideas as part of celebrations for HKUMed’s 135th anniversary.

Professor Darzi is Leong Che-Hung Distinguished Visiting Professor in Leadership, Doctor of Science honoris causa, The University of Hong Kong. He is based in London where he is Co-Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London.

His lecture, which was delivered from London, detailed how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed that current healthcare systems are “inefficient, inequitable and economically unsustainable”.

One of the major flaws he identified is how current healthcare provision focuses on “sick care” and managing illnesses, instead of maximising wellbeing.

“The sad fact is that we’ve completely ignored over the past two or three decades the many slow pandemics that we’re living through,” he said. “The slow pandemics of obesity, diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases.”

To tackle the issue of “slow pandemics”, Professor Darzi proposes transforming health systems from a “sick care model” to a “preemptive health and medicine model”.

“We’re not just trying to extend the lifespan, we’re trying to extend the health span and there’s a difference between the two,” he said. “It is the quality of life that matters.”

Switching this focus would keep healthcare expenditure in check. Healthcare spending is set to rise to an unsustainable one-third of gross domestic product by 2050, he said.

The audience in the Faculty Boardroom were invited to pose questions

Professor Darzi is a Consultant Surgeon at Imperial College NHS Trust and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust as well as non-executive director of NHS England and Co-Director of the NHS Digital Academy.

His research is largely focused on the convergence science in areas of engineering, physical and data sciences including robotics, sensing, imaging and digital technologies.

The surgeon opened his lecture joking that he is not the only non-specialist to develop a greater interest in viruses thanks to the COVID-19, with much of the public also becoming “quasi-amateurish public health doctors”.

This greater interest in public health has provided lessons for “fast pandemics”, such as the need to protect health at a global level, share data, harness artificial intelligence and speed up drug and vaccine development.

Panelists joined Professor Darzi for a discussion after the lecture

“We’re collectively vulnerable to the future of fast pandemics linked to our individual and collective health resiliency,” he said “If there are lessons to be learned, it’s not the post mortem of COVID and how it happened, it’s how we managed it and what we have ignored for years.”

The lecture was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Professor Gabriel Leung, Dean of Medicine, HKUMed.

The panel was made up of Professor Philip Chiu, Department of Surgery, CUHK, Dr Christian Fang, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, School of Clinical Medicine, HKUMed, Ms Nisa Leung, Managing Partner, Qiming Venture Partners and Professor Mak Tak-wah, Department of Pathology, School of Clinical Medicine, HKUMed.

You can watch the full lecture and discussion here.

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HKUMed is the longest established institution in higher education of Hong Kong. It was founded as the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese by London Missionary Society in 1887, and was renamed as the Hong Kong College of Medicine in 1907.

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