Morocco can take confidence from its early rapid response and the collaboration between the public and private sector, yet the country can benefit from more medical staff, public spending, and further innovation.
Rabat – Morocco executed an effective COVID-19 response through swift action and strong collaboration, yet healthcare needs more resources and innovation. These are the conclusions of a report published on Wednesday by Oxford Business Group (OBG), a British company that produces detailed emerging markets analyses.
The company’s “COVID-19 Response Report” highlights several strong points about Morocco’s strategy and presents recommendations for improvement.
OBG’s report credits Morocco’s fast COVID-19 response in March as a major contributor to its relative success. “Morocco was one of the first countries in the world to take bold and decisive measures,” the report states. The government’s decisions to close borders and impose a national lockdown were major factors that contained the spread.
The early response allowed the country to deal with the virus at a “more manageable pace” compared to European countries. Additionally, Morocco’s improvements to its healthcare data system allowed it to raise awareness about COVID-19 faster and among those most vulnerable.
OBG considers that the public and private sector worked together well to overcome unprecedented odds. The local pharmaceutical industry was able to cope with increased demands for conventional medicine at the start of the crisis. Morocco’s large domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing industry allowed the country to produce 80% of all needed medications, including COVID-19 drugs.
Morocco was able to locally produce important equipment such as ventilators, infrared thermometers, and, by June, 10 million masks every day. Textile factories adapted to mask production and other personal protective equipment. Field hospitals and hospital extensions allowed Morocco to cope with an influx of COVID-19 patients.
Public-private partnerships also helped scale up testing in Morocco’s COVID-19 response. In late March, as the national lockdown entered into effect, the country was only able to conduct 500 tests per week. By June the capacity had increased to more than 100,000 tests per week. The decision to test private sector employees created a need to increase testing and by August the country had tested 1.5 million people.
Morocco’s strict initial response spared the system an influx of COVID-19 patients, yet OBG sees a point of concern in the availability of trained staff. The British firm considers the country to have a “human resource shortage” of 32,000 doctors and 64,000 nurses and health technicians, below WHO-recommended levels.
The report attributed the shortage to below-par wages for Moroccan healthcare professionals and a brain drain of 14,000 Moroccan doctors working abroad. The issue existed before the COVID-19 pandemic hit as Morocco spends less on healthcare compared to others in the region. With Morocco expanding its healthcare coverage to all citizens in the coming years, the need to motivate young Moroccans to study medicine and fill the deficit is likely to grow in urgency.
On public spending, OBG provides another recommendation that Morocco is likely to heed as it aims to provide universal healthcare by 2022. OBG called public spending a “lingering challenge” that is key in preparing for a “new normal.” Morocco currently spends 5.8% of its budget on healthcare, well below the recommended 12% minimum recommended by the WHO.
Additional spending through Morocco’s Special Fund for the Management and Response to COVID-19 helped fill this gap during the emergence of the crisis. Still OBG expects that “more financing will be required to meet the country’s future health needs.” Yet as the pandemic highlighted gaps in the system, it also showed the country’s resolve in making rapid decisions in times of crisis, according to the report.
The country’s swift response to the COVID-19 crisis presents Morocco with “an opportunity to build on these changes and set up a robust system.” The report sees a role for local pharmaceutical companies to strengthen supply chains and possibly expand to produce for the European market.
A key aspect that can improve Morocco’s healthcare system is a renewed focus on digitalization. The country now has 23.7 million mobile internet users and 25.4 million internet subscriptions. Amid the first phases of the COVID-19 crisis this high level of internet-penetration allowed Morocco to launch digital health initiatives such as medical consulting platform docHome.ma and healthcare social network Sante Connect.
Innovation through research and development (R&D) is likely to play a key role in the future of Moroccan healthcare, “paving the way for further innovation,” according to OBG. Early on in the COVID-19 crsis local R&D institutes helped realize innovative solutions by bringing together public researchers and private organizations.
Local innovation resulted in Morocco’s first 100% domestically produced COVID-19 testing kit. OBG considers the development of R&D efforts to be directly tied to ensuring Morocco can meet domestic demand for medical equipment and products in the future.
Morocco’s rapid response, strong and wide-reaching collaboration, and domestic manufacturing has helped prevent COVID-19 from spreading and limited its health impact. Taking pride in this achievement, increased healthcare spending and incentivizing medical students and professionals can turn Morocco’s strong COVID-19 response into a more robust healthcare system in the long term.