COVID-19 continues to disrupt essential health services: WHO

Over one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, about 90 per cent of the world’s 105 countries surveyed still report disruptions to their essential health services, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

A recent WHO survey has found that about 66 per cent of countries continue to report health workforce-related reasons as the most common cause of service disruptions, and in nearly one-third of countries supply chains are also still disrupted, affecting the availability of essential medicines, diagnostics and the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to safely and effectively provide care, Xinhua news agency reported on April 23.

More than half of the countries surveyed reported service disruptions due to patients not seeking care, because of community mistrust and fears of becoming infected, while 43 per cent cited financial challenges as a major cause of disruption.

Most extensively affected are the health services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders; neglected tropical diseases; tuberculosis; HIV and hepatitis B and C; cancer screening; and services for other non-communicable diseases, including hypertension and diabetes; family planning and contraception; urgent dental care; and malnutrition, according to the survey.

Such disruptions have resulted in millions of people still missing out on vital health care, the WHO said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose serious challenges to global health beyond the impact of the disease itself,” said UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) executive director Henrietta Fore.

“As we scale up delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, we have to ensure that this does not come at the cost of essential childhood vaccinations …The time to catch up is now,” Fore added.

The good news is that countries have been working to mitigate disruptions, says the survey. More than half of the countries surveyed say they have recruited additional staff to boost their health workforce; redirected patients to other care facilities; and switched to alternative methods of delivering care.

“It is encouraging to see that countries are beginning to build back their essential health services, but much remains to be done,” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“The survey highlights the need to intensify efforts and take additional steps to close gaps and strengthen services. It will be especially important to monitor the situation in countries that were struggling to provide health services before the pandemic,” Ghebreyesus added.

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