After three years of the coronavirus pandemic, a new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that health systems in countries have started showing the first major signs of recovery.
According to the WHO interim report released on Tuesday, countries are said to be experiencing reduced disruptions in the delivery of routine health services by early 2023 but emphasised the need to invest in recovery and stronger resilience for the future.
The report is the WHO’s fourth round of the global pulse survey on continuity of essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic: from November 2022 to January 2023”.
Globally, as of 26 April, the WHO dashboard shows there were 764,474,387 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 6,915,286 deaths.
WHO pulse survey
The health organisation said among the 139 countries that responded to the fourth round of WHO’s pulse survey, countries reported continued disruptions in almost one-quarter of services on average.
WHO found that in 84 countries where trend analysis is possible, the percentage of disrupted services declined on average from 56 per cent in July-September 2020 to 23 per cent from November 2022 to January 2023.
It noted that persisting disruptions are due to both demand- and supply-side factors, including low levels of healthcare-seeking in communities, and limited availability of health workers and other healthcare resources.
“It is welcome news that health systems in the majority of countries are starting to restore essential health services for millions of people who missed them during the pandemic,” WHO Director for Integrated Health Services, Rudi Eggers, was quoted to have said on the WHO website.
“But we need to ensure that all countries continue to close this gap to recover health services, and apply lessons learnt to build more prepared and resilient health systems for the future”.
Notable signs of recovery
In the survey, fewer countries were reported to have intentionally scaled back access across health service delivery platforms and essential public health functions since 2020-2021, which indicates a significant step towards pre-pandemic levels.
WHO noted that by the end of 2022, most countries reported partial signs of health service recovery.
This includes recovery in services for sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health; nutrition; immunisation; communicable diseases (including malaria, HIV, TB, and other sexually-transmitted infections).
Others are neglected tropical diseases; noncommunicable diseases; management of mental, neurological and substance use disorders; care for older people; and traditional and/or complementary care.
WHO added that the number of countries reporting disruption to their national supply chain system reduced from nearly half (29 of 59 responding countries) to about a quarter (18 of 66 responding countries) within the last year.
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Just as the COVID-19 pandemic affected the economy and almost every facet of life, it also disrupted essential health services and efforts to end several non-communicable diseases.
Nigeria didn’t participate in survey
Meanwhile, Nigeria is listed as one of the countries in the African region that did not respond to at least one module in all rounds of the pulse survey and is included in the trending analysis.
Ghana, South Africa, Liberia, Kenya and 31 other countries were marked to have responded to the survey from the African region.
However, the Nigerian government had since hinted at a decline in COVID-19 infections and fatalities when they relaxed the COVID-19 travel protocols in December 2023.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) also transitioned from weekly updates to biweekly situation reports of the pandemic.
As of 28 April, NCDC data shows that 266,675 cases of COVID-19 and 3,155 deaths have been recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Integrating COVID-19 services into health services
The WHO also reported that most countries have made progress in integrating COVID-19 services into routine health service delivery.
It said about 80-90 per cent of countries have fully integrated COVID-19 vaccination, diagnostic and case management services as well as services for post-COVID-19 conditions into routine service delivery.
But 80 per cent of the 83 responding countries reported at least one bottleneck to scaling up access to essential COVID-19 tools (e.g. COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines and personal protective equipment – PPE), with health workforce issues and lack of funding representing the most common barriers.
WHO noted that further support is needed for recovery, resilience and preparedness, adding that most countries have started to apply what they have learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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