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90 Percent Of Countries’ Health Services Continue To Be Disrupted By The COVID-19 Pandemic: WHO


Over one year into the COVID-19 pandemic and 90% of
countries are still reporting one or more disruptions to
essential health services. The findings
of the second World Health Organization (WHO) “pulse
survey”
reveal that no substantial global change has
been made since the first
survey
was conducted in the summer of 2020.

There
are some signs of progress however: in 2020, countries
surveyed reported that, on average, about half of essential
health services were disrupted. In the first 3 months of
2021, that figure had dropped to just over one third of
services.

Overcoming disruptions

Many
countries have now stepped up efforts to mitigate
disruptions. These include informing the public about
changes to service delivery and providing advice about ways
to safely seek healthcare. They are identifying and
prioritizing patients with the most urgent needs.

More
than half the countries say they have recruited additional
staff to boost the health workforce; redirected patients to
other care facilities; and switched to alternative methods
to delivering care, such as providing more home-based
services, multi-month prescriptions for treatments, and
increasing the use of telemedicine.

WHO and its partners have
also been helping countries to better respond to the
challenges being placed on their health systems; strengthen
primary healthcare, and advance universal health
coverage.

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

“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.”

Conditions
persist

Countries are still having to make important
decisions when responding to COVID-19, that may
negatively affect access to care for other health
issues.

Redeployment of staff to provide COVID-19
relief and temporary closures of health facilities and
services continue, the UN health agency said.

Although
they may have taken on new staff, 66% of countries continue
to report health workforce-related reasons as the most
common causes of service disruptions.

Supply chains
are also still disrupted in nearly one third of countries,
affecting the availability of essential medicines,
diagnostics, and the PPE needed to safely and effectively
provide care.

More than half of countries report
service disruptions due to patients not seeking care and
because of mistrust and fears of becoming
infected.

Meanwhile, 43% of countries, cite financial
challenges as major causes for
disruptions.

Impacts

Millions of people are
still missing out on vital healthcare, the WHO data shows.
Nearly half of countries reported that the most affected
area was the provision of day-to-day primary care to prevent
and manage some of the most common health
problems.

Long term care for chronic conditions,
rehabilitation, and palliative end-of-life care, is also
still badly disrupted. 20% of countries says potentially
life-saving emergency, critical and surgical care
interventions are still disrupted and two thirds of
countries also report disruptions in elective
surgeries.

Among the most extensively affected health
services are mental,
neurological and substance use disorders
; neglected
tropical diseases; tuberculosis; HIV and hepatitis B and C;
cancer screening, and services for other noncommunicable
diseases
including hypertension and diabetes; family
planning and contraception; urgent dental care; and
malnutrition.

More than one third of countries are
still reporting disruptions to immunisation services,
despite 20% and 30% less disruption compared to
2020.

“We cannot allow today’s fight against
COVID-19 to undermine our fight against measles, polio or
other vaccine preventable illnesses. Prolonged immunization
disruptions will have long-term consequences for
children’s health. The time to catch up is now,” said
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive
Director.

40% of countries are also reporting
disruptions to one or more malaria services. While 10% fewer
countries reported disruptions to malaria diagnosis and
treatment compared to 2020 and 25-33% fewer countries
reporting disruptions to malaria prevention campaigns, the
level of disruption is still significant and needs to be
urgently addressed, said WHO in a statement.

WHO
support

The agency said it will continue to support
countries so they can respond to increased strains on health
systems.

This includes supporting mechanisms to speed
up equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and
treatments, and the Strategic Preparedness and Response
Plan, which guides actions taken at national, regional, and
global levels to tackle COVID-19.

The organisation is
also focused on delivering the work it committed to before
the pandemic. Through the “Boost initiative” which
covers 115 countries, it has strengthened its capacity to
provide additional support, so countries can maintain
essential health services during the pandemic, and advance
progress towards universal health
coverage.

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