Nine in 10 countries are still experiencing disruptions to their essential health services following the outbreak of COVID-19 more than one year ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) has found.
Cancer screenings, urgent dental work and treatments for mental and substance use disorders are among the services most disrupted, with millions of people still missing out on vital healthcare worldwide.
Although they may have taken on new staff, 66% of countries reported workforce-related reasons as the most common causes of service disruptions, while 43% cited financial challenges as major causes.
Nearly half are struggling with provision of day-to-day primary care to manage common health problems, while 20% are suffering with disruptions to potentially life-saving emergency, critical and surgical care interventions.
Within countries, however, the magnitude and extent of disruptions has generally decreased over the last year, with just over one-third of services now being disrupted on average, compared to around half in 2020.
“It is encouraging to see that countries are beginning to build back their essential health services, but much remains to be done,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general. “It will be especially important to monitor the situation in countries that were struggling to provide health services before the pandemic.“
Despite successful vaccine rollouts in countries like the UK and Israel, the latest findings also show that more than one-third of nations are still reporting disruptions to immunisation services.
Meanwhile, nearly 40% are suffering with disruptions to malaria services. Although this is down 10% from last year, the WHO said that this level of disruption needs to be "urgently addressed".
Recruiting additional staff, redirecting patients to other care facilities and switching to alternative methods for delivering care, such as more home-based services and increased use of telemedicine, are among the measures being taken by countries to limit the disruption.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose serious challenges to global health beyond the impact of the disease itself,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director. “For children, disruptions to immunisation services have serious consequences.
“We cannot allow today’s fight against COVID-19 to undermine our fight against measles, polio or other vaccine-preventable illnesses. Prolonged immunisation disruptions will have long-term consequences for children’s health. The time to catch up is now.”
Image credit: iStock
Author: Chris Seekings