The coronavirus pandemic could potentially throw humanity’s progress in the field of health care back by decades, the WHO has ominously warned following its first indicative study on the impact of the virus.
Major progress in essential health care services achieved over the past two decades could be “wiped out in a short period of time,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in the major study, calling it “a source of great concern.”
An extensive survey conducted between March and June among senior health officials in more than 100 countries showed that almost every one of them experienced disruptions in some vital health services, endangering the lives of people who did not necessarily contract Covid-19. Low and middle-income countries reported the biggest difficulties.
Among the most affected services were immunizations and outreach services for some of the most vulnerable people as well as diagnosis and treatment of non-communicable diseases and cancer. Disruptions of family planning and mental health disorders’ treatment were also high on the list.
Significant delays with any of these services could lead to long-term negative effects on population health, the Geneva-based UN Health body warned. “The impact may be felt beyond the immediate pandemic as, in trying to catch up on services, countries may find that resources are overwhelmed,” the study said, adding that even a “modest disruption” could lead to an increase in morbidity and mortality rates.
Almost a quarter of all nations that took part in the survey also reported disruptions of potentially life saving emergency services like urgent blood transfusions or emergency surgeries.
The researchers believe that the pandemic has already caused a spike in non-Covid deaths due to the disruption in other health care services, while admitting that the exact impact would be hard to calculate.
Lockdown measures imposed by governments and financial difficulties experienced by many during the pandemic are cited as reasons for the disruption, in addition to supply interruptions and staff redeployment to treat Covid-19 patients.
“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. He added that the pandemic 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 said.
The true scale of the impact might in fact be even bigger than the study implies as it did not include the Americas – a region that is home to some of the worst affected nations, including the United States and Brazil.
The number of Covid-19 cases across the world has surpassed 25 million while the pandemic-linked death toll has almost reached 850,000, according to figures compiled by the Johns Hopkins University.
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