Enabling the Private Health Sector in the National Response to COVID-19: Six Current Policy Challenges

This document was commissioned by the World Health Organization and written by Ms. Barbara O’Hanlon, a member of the WHO Advisory Group on the Governance of the Private Sector for UHC and Dr. Mark Hellowell, Director of Global Health Policy Unit at the University of Edinburgh.

This document identifies and frames the policy challenges that low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are facing in enabling the domestic private health sector to support the national response to COVID-19. Most countries in LMICs are currently in the containment phase of their response to the pandemic, and are thus focused on the early detection, isolation, and treatment for those infected with the disease, alongside contact tracing and screening. In this phase, six policy challenges have been identified as core priorities:

  1. Countries are unsure of how best to include the private sector in planning for the national response effort;
  2. Resource-based planning cannot take place as critical data on private sector resources and capacity are not held by the government;
  3. The private health sector lacks certain inputs needed for it to play a role as an effective partner for the government in the response;
  4. Emergency legislation, compounded by weak systems and regulation, can limit the private sector’s role;
  5. Countries are unsure of whether, or how best to, reimburse the private sector for health services provided during the outbreak; and
  6. Private healthcare businesses are exposed to significant financial losses at this time, but governments lack clear criteria for providing support.

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