The World Health Organisation (WHO) published an indicative survey on Monday on the impact of COVID-19 on health service systems, based on the reports provided by 105 countries, showing that the vast majority suffered from disruptions in these services.
The data was collected from five different regions of the globe over the period from March to June 2020, and the results showed that almost every country in the survey (90%) experienced some form of disruption to its health services.
Out of all of the countries, those with low and middle-incomes reported the greatest difficulties.
Most of the countries in the survey stated that many routine and elective services have been suspended due to the pandemic, whilst critical care, such as cancer screening and HIV therapy, have been interrupted on plenty of occasions in low-income countries, posing a very high risk to the patients.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General claimed that “The survey shines a light on the cracks in our health systems, but it also serves to inform new strategies to improve healthcare provision during the pandemic and beyond”.
He also added that “COVID-19 should be a lesson to all countries that health is not an ‘either-or’ equation. We must better prepare for emergencies but also keep investing in health systems that fully respond to people’s needs throughout the life course.”
According to the survey, countries on average had disruptions in 50% of a set of 25 tracer services, with the most frequently disrupted areas being routine immunisation, such as outreach services (70%) and facility-based services (61%).
Non-communicable diseases diagnosis and treatment (69%) and family planning and contraception (68%) also made up a large part of the services disrupted.
Even more worrying signs emerged in potentially life-saving emergency services, with there being disruptions to 24-hour emergency room services in 22% of the countries in the survey, with 23% of countries having disruptions in urgent blood transfusions and a further 19% of countries having disruptions in emergency surgery.
These disruptions were mainly down to the cancellation of elective services, with this making up 66% of the supply side factors.
The demand side factors were primarily reductions in outpatient care attendance, with 76% of countries reporting a low demand in this.
Whilst several countries are following the WHO guidelines and strategies in order to reduce these service disruptions, only 14% of the countries reported that they had removed user fees for health services, with the removal of such being a recommendation by WHO in order to reduce the financial pressure imposed on patients.
WHO stated that it will “continue to work with countries and to provide supportive tools to address the fallout from COVID-19”, with the pandemic still being present and on the rise.