Opinion: Pandemic taught us a valuable lesson in the importance of having a capable health system; with an approved state budget, the country can now improve it to function properly not only day-to-day, but also during emergencies
Sheba Medical Center’s coronavirus ward (Photo: Reuters)
The successful passing of the 2021-2022 state budget earlier this month has opened a window of opportunities to hold a serious debate on Israel’s long-term strategic challenges.
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Obviously, and justly so, the first thing that comes to mind is the matter of security.
Over the years, the country has become accustomed to seeing security as the most critical tool for its continued survival.
But now it might be time to divert our attention to other issues, since the coronavirus pandemic proved there are other matters that are just as crucial, if not more so, as security. Israel must widen its definition of national security to include other potential threats that could endanger our well-being and way of life.
The pandemic taught us a valuable lesson in the importance of having a strong and stable health system, which faces an array of other threats besides coronavirus, such as an aging population, an increase in chronic illness, cyber-attacks and natural disasters.
We are used to complaining about overcrowding and queues at hospitals and clinics, but COVID was probably the biggest test our health system had to face in recent history, and Israel has functioned excellently, attracting international attention due to its exceptional capabilities in dealing with the pandemic.
The most important lesson we need to take with us is that whatever does not function properly during quiet times, will not do so in emergencies.
In the end, all the organizational structures we built from scratch for epidemiological tests and investigations did not justify the hundreds of millions of shekels invested in them because we have managed to rein in the pandemic only thanks to our health funds, hospitals, laboratories and of course – the Health Ministry.
Now – looking to the future – we need to continue to increase the system’s readiness for the challenges we know we are facing, as well as those we currently don’t. No country can prepare for every threat. Certainly not Israel, where the map of risks is more challenging than any other developed country.
But if we strengthen the foundations of the health system through resources appropriate to accommodate the potential challenges – we will get an improvement in its day-to-day functioning, as well as during emergencies.
This should be the beginning of a rethinking process of our perception of national security. All that remains now is to hope that the importance of the issue will also be reflected in the long-term planning of the state and in the allocation of budgetary resources.
Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov is a former director-general at the Health Ministry and a guest researcher for the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.