Essential health services are continuously disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic
Geneva, Switzerland – Two years into the pandemic, health systems still face significant challenges in delivering essential health services. Ongoing disruptions were reported in more than 90% of countries surveyed in the third round of WHO’s global survey on the continuity of essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Countries reported disruptions in services for all major health areas, including sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, immunization, nutrition, cancer care, mental, neurological disorders and related to substance use, HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases. and caring for the elderly. Additionally, even as COVID-19 vaccination has intensified, there have been reports of increased disruptions to routine immunization services.
The results of this latest survey, conducted in late 2021, suggest that health systems in all regions and in countries at all income levels continue to be severely impacted, with little or no improvement since the start of 2021. , when the previous survey was conducted.
Disruptions continue at all health care facilities
Countries have reported disruptions in all health care facilities. In more than half of the countries studied, many people still do not have access to primary and community care. Significant disruptions have also been reported in emergency care, of particular concern given the impact on people with urgent health needs. Thirty-six percent of countries reported disruptions to ambulance services; 32% to 24-hour emergency services; and 23% to emergency surgeries.
Elective surgeries have also been halted in 59% of countries, which may have cumulative consequences for health and well-being as the pandemic continues. Disruptions to rehabilitation and palliative care were also reported in around half of the countries studied.
Key barriers to restoring health services include pre-existing health system issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic as well as diminished demand for care.
Barriers to scaling up COVID-19 tools
As countries continue to face challenges in maintaining essential health services, 92% of countries also reported critical bottlenecks in expanding access to essential COVID-19 tools, including diagnostics, COVID-19 treatments, vaccines and personal protective equipment (PPE).
The survey highlighted health workforce issues as the biggest barriers to accessing COVID-19 tools, likely caused by health workers facing burnout, being infected with COVID-19 or leaving labor. Health workforce challenges were reported by 56% of countries for diagnostics and testing; 64% for COVID-19 therapeutics and treatments, and 36% for distribution and use of PPE. Demand-side challenges, such as lack of community acceptance, access, and affordability, are the most commonly reported bottlenecks for COVID-19 vaccination. Fifty-eight percent of countries reported difficulties on the demand side as the main bottleneck to accessing the COVID-19 vaccine and 35% reported difficulties for the health workforce.
Other obstacles include lack of funding; supply and equipment shortages; and lack of data, information, strategies and guidance.
Ongoing recovery plans
However, all the countries studied are adopting strategies to overcome disruptions and restore services. These include strengthening the training and capacity of health workers, providing home-based or telehealth services, procuring essential medicines and health products, implementing risk communication strategies and community engagement and implement health financing strategies. They also look forward to the resilience of health services in the longer term, with half of the countries surveyed having developed a plan to restore health services to prepare for future health emergencies and 70% of countries having allocated additional public funding to health services. recovery efforts around capacity building of health workers; access to medicines and other health products; digital health; facility infrastructure and information and disinformation management.
Even moderate disruptions to essential health services have negative consequences for health and well-being. The results of this survey underscore the importance of urgent action to address key health system challenges, restore services and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO will continue to support countries to meet priority health system needs to transition to recovery, end the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future health emergencies.
Note to Editors
The findings are based on preliminary results from 129 countries, territories and areas that responded to WHO’s global survey series conducted from November to December 2021 on the continuity of essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19. Country responses refer to the situation in the six months prior to the end of the survey. The survey examines 66 core health services across multiple delivery platforms and health domains.
The purpose of the survey was to get a quick snapshot of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on essential health services, from key challenges to expanding access to essential COVID-19 tools and how countries are adapting their strategies to sustain and respond to service delivery. health system challenges. This series of surveys follows previous WHO flash surveys on the continuity of essential health services distributed in 2020-2021, including: series 1 and 2 flash surveys on the continuity of essential health services during the pandemic of COVID-19; Rapid assessment of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on non-communicable disease resources and services; Rapid assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, neurological and addictions services; and the Rounds 1 and 2 blitzes on immunization.
Although blitz surveys have limitations such as reporting bias and representativeness, the strength of this effort is that it is comprehensive and provides information quickly.