COVID-19 Interferes with Health Services Worldwide
The World Health Organization (WHO) says COVID-19 has interfered with necessary health services in almost every country. It says low- and middle-income nations are affected the most by the crisis.
In May, WHO officials sent a list of questions about the crisis to health officials in 159 countries. Officials in 105 countries answered over the next three months. The WHO says 90 percent of them reported at least some interference in at least one of 25 necessary services.
More than 50 percent reported interference with the ability to find and treat cancer. Malaria programs were affected in almost half of the countries. Tuberculosis programs were affected in more than 40 percent of countries, and HIV treatment in 33 percent.
Almost half of low-income countries reported interference in at least 75 percent of their necessary health services. Four percent of high-income countries reported this level of interference.
The services most commonly affected were immunization programs, with interference reported in 70 percent of the 105 countries. Identification and treatment of diseases that do not spread person to person, such as diabetes, were affected in 69 percent of countries. Family planning services were affected in 68 percent, and mental health treatment services in 61 percent of reporting countries.
Interference in critical emergency services was reported in about 25 percent of the countries that answered the questions.
The “great majority” of interference reported affected between 5 and 50 percent of services.
A WHO statement said that even strong health systems can be quickly weakened by the spread of COVID-19.
North America, South America and countries in the Caribbean were not included in the WHO research. The organization said this was because of the high rates of coronavirus spread and limited capacities in those areas at the time of the study.
The new information is the most detailed examination of the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on health services.
Interference in most HIV, tuberculosis and malaria programs in low-income countries supported by The Global Fund have been reported. One study estimated that deaths from HIV over the next five years could increase by 10 percent, as a result. It said that tuberculosis deaths might rise by 20 percent, and malaria by 36 percent.
The WHO report says countries are beginning to make changes to how they operate health services. Telemedicine – professional health care provided over a computer or phone — is on the rise. And about half of countries have found new ways to get medicine to patients.
Efforts to document and learn from what works in different settings “are urgently required,” the report said.
I’m Jonathan Evans.