Health Services Witness COVID-19-Induced Disruption in 90% of Countries


Rabat – The majority of countries around the world have experienced disruption to their health care services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Low and middle-income countries, such as Morocco, reported the greatest difficulties, according to a recent survey by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The “Pulse survey on continuity of essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic” collected data from 105 different countries. Its results revealed that 90% of the surveyed countries experienced disruption to their health services.

Most countries reported that COVID-19 forced them to suspend many health services. Critical care, such as cancer screening and treatment and HIV therapy, also witnessed interruptions, especially in low-income countries.

“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,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“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,” he added.

The survey collected information on the disruption of 25 different health services. It revealed that countries experienced disruption in 50% of the services, on average.

Most affected services

According to the survey, 70% of countries witnessed disruption to their outreach health services and 61% saw their facility-based services disrupted.

The most frequently disrupted services are non-communicable disease diagnosis and treatment (69%), family planning and contraception (68%), treatment for mental health disorders (61%), and cancer diagnosis and treatment (55%).

Countries also reported disruptions in malaria diagnosis and treatment (46%), tuberculosis case detection and treatment (42%), and antiretroviral HIV treatment (32%).

According to the WHO, the disruption of health services might have harmful effects on populations in the short, medium, and long term.

The COVID-19 pandemic also disrupted life-saving emergency services in nearly a quarter of the countries included in the survey. The disruptions affected urgent blood transfusions (23%), 24-hour emergency room services (22%), and emergency surgeries (19%).

A major reason behind the disruptions, according to the survey, is the lower demand on health services due to lockdowns and financial difficulties. Other factors include medical staff redeployment to provide COVID-19 relief, unavailability of services due to closings, and interruptions in the supply of medical equipment and medicines.

To mitigate health services’ disruption, the WHO recommended several strategies. These include the identification of priorities, a shift to online patient consultations, changes to prescribing practices, and the removal of some fees.