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COVID19: 90% Countries Still Facing Disruption In Providing Essential Health Care Services

There’s no shadow of a doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has stressed almost every country’s health care system. Infections forced several major hospitals to completely transform into COVID19 wards, but the global health emergency has not halted the need for the rest of the medical care. Vaccination in children, regular check-up of ill, therapies for cancer, and thousands of other medical services cannot wait for the pandemic to end.

A WHO’s second-round survey, ‘Plus Survey’s report released on 23rd April revealed that even after a year of the Pandemic; more than 90% of countries persist to face one or more disruptions in providing essential health care services due to the COVID pandemic.

But, what are these disruptions? And how can the world build a more resilient healthcare system?

The Disruptions

When the pandemic started spreading in early 2020, lockdowns, curfews, and other measures adopted for mitigating the pandemic severely impacted the economy, education, and health care sectors. Healthcare, the frontline actor, was overwhelmed by the sudden increase in patients, especially at that time when a lot of uncertainty surrounded the virus. The Plus Survey conducted then about the disruptions in the healthcare services had undoubtedly alarming results.

But almost the same result of the second round survey dictates that not much have changed in the past year. Observing the deliverance of essential medical services in the first three months of 2021 had almost the same result as of 2020. The result of the overall service disruption according to the survey showed that:

  • 94% of all the participating countries were facing disruption in providing at minimum one necessary health care service.
  • 34% faced disruption in more than 50% of the essential services
  • Approximately 9% reported disruptions in 75-100% of services.
  • 29% announced disruption in 25-49% of all the essential services.
  • Only 6% of countries had not faced any sort of disruptions in providing healthcare service to its citizen due to the pandemic.
  • On average one-third of the essential services as disrupted due to the COVID19 outbreak.
Source: WHO

But despite adding more workers, more than 66% of the countries complain about the disruption because of the redeployment of major medical staff in tackling the viral infection. Still, countries will need to make important decisions which could further add more disarray in responding to other major health issues.

Implications of The Disruptions

Due to the persistent disruptions in essential healthcare facilities, millions of people are mildly or severely impacted globally. Maximum countries reported a halt in day-to-day medical services that work towards preventing common health problems. Moreover, the long-run therapies and services for chronic conditions, for example, cancer treatment have also been severely distorted due to the pandemic.

The survey revealed that the most affected healthcare services are neurological and mental health disorders, cancer screening, HIV, TB, and other non-communicable long-term diseases. Furthermore, the effect of the disruption in contraception, family planning, malnutrition, hypertension, etc will be seen in the coming times.

Immunization services in two-third of the surveyed countries were also found disrupted, though 20-30% less than 2020. Executive Director of UNICEF commented on the report, “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.”

COVID19:Prevailing Over The Disruptions

The global health emergency has again highlighted the importance of more resilient health care services. Many countries are working to strengthen their public healthcare for easing up disruptions by:

  • Making the public aware of the changes in the deliverance of the services triggered by the pandemic.
  • Informing people about health emergencies and how to keep themselves safe in the occurred situation.
  • Prioritizing the patients whose dire health cannot wait and need more urgent concern.

Witnessing the shortage of workforce in the time of need, more than 50% of the countries have started recruiting more additional staff in the healthcare sector. The patients of the COVID turned hospitals were shifted to other health care centers for necessary treatment and therapies. Technology will surely play a crucial role in the post-COVID era for connecting patients with doctors; as telemedicine services have been adopted by major hospitals for curbing infections. Furthermore, multi-month prescriptions, home-based services, etc are helping in strengthening the public medical care sector; says the WHO report.

The most concerning disruption are the disturbance in critical life-saving emergency health care services. World Health Organisation is working closely with the countries that had a weak health sector even before the pandemic started and is trying to boost public healthcare, advance universal health inclusion.

Average percentage of disruptions across integrated service delivery channels

Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says, “It is encouraging to see that countries are beginning to build back their essential health services, but much remains to be done.” WHO has committed that it will continue to support countries in strengthening the health care services for future emergencies like the COVID19 pandemic.