COVID-19 disrupted half of 25 key health services globally: WHO report

Immunisation-outreach services were the most hit (70%), while non-communicable diseases diagnosis and treatment was the second-most impacted (69%)

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 31 August 2020

Countries experienced disruptions in at least half the 25 kinds of health services due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to the findings of a survey conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its five regions.

Immunisation-outreach services were the most hit (70 per cent), while non-communicable diseases (NCD) diagnosis and treatment was the second-most impacted (69 per cent). They were followed by family planning and contraception (68 per cent), treatment for mental health disorders and facility-based services (61 per cent) and cancer diagnosis and treatment (55 per cent).

The WHO carried out regular assessments over the capacity of countries to respond to NCDs through surveys since 2001, the report noted. It found 94 per cent of the countries concentrated their efforts either full time on COVID-19.

A great majority of overall disruptions were partial — defined as a change between five and 50 per cent — while severe disruptions were defined as a change of more than 50 per cent.

The reasons for the disruption in these services were from both, demand and supply factors, the report pointed out. On the demand side, patients did not present themselves for outpatient care, with several holding lockdowns to be responsible for curbing access to such care. Several respondents also said financial difficulties were responsible for inhibiting access to healthcare.

A number of supply side factors, including cancellation of elective care, workforce-related difficulties and unavailability of services affecting services as well, according to the report. The difficulties in workforce owed to clinical staff redeployment to help in COVID-19-related duties, while shutting of services included closure of screening programmes, closure of disease-specific outpatient consultation clinics, etc.

Source: WHO

“The situation differs from state to state, with partial and no disruption depending on program / service and region,” one respondent, was quoted as saying by the report.

Several countries started implementing WHO-recommended strategies to mitigate this disruption of services, said the report. These included triaging to identify priorities, shifting to online patient consultations, changes to prescribing practices and supply-chain strategies and refocusing public health information communications.

The survey was conducted between May and July 2020, with health officials of 105 of the 159 countries responding to the WHO’s questionnaire. The findings of the survey were published in the Pulse survey on continuity of essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic report released August 27.

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