A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service conducts a COVID-19 test at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem, on Wednesday. The WHO said nearly all countries have experienced disruptions to essential services due to the pandemic. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 1 (UPI) -- Nearly every country has experienced disruptions to essential health services amid the pandemic, the World Health Organization said, with low- and middle-income countries being the greatest affected.
The data was revealed in a survey concerning the impact of the pandemic on WHO member states published Monday that found 90% of the 105 responding countries reported experiencing disruptions to essential health services.
The survey said that while most countries' health systems were impacted, the great majority of service disruptions were defined as "partial," meaning they experienced a change of between 5-50% in service provision.
All services from communicable diseases to nutrition and reproductive were disrupted, it said.
Routine immunization outreach services such as for malaria treatments were the most heavily impacted with 70% of countries saying they experienced disruptions in such services followed by non-communicable disease diagnosis and treatment at 69%, family planning and contraception at 68%, facility-based services at 61%, treatment for mental health disorders at 61% and cancer diagnosis and treatment at 55%.
Emergencies services were the least impacted although 16 countries reported disruptions across all such departments and nearly a quarter of responding nations said they experience disruptions to potentially life-saving emergency services, such as 24-hour emergency rooms, blood transfusions and emergency surgeries.
In a statement, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic should stand as a lesson that health is not an either-or equation and that all issues should be addressed.
"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," he said. "We must better prepare for emergencies but also keep investing in health systems that fully respond to people's needs throughout the life course."
The survey said the cause for the disruptions was a mix of supply and demand factors with 76% of countries reporting a reduction in outpatient care attendance due to government-instituted lockdowns and patient financial difficulties, while the most common factor on the supply side at 66% was the cancellation of elective services.
WHO warned that the disruption to services may extend beyond the pandemic as countries try to catch up but find resources overwhelmed.
The survey concludes that these disruptions could increase morbidity and mortality from causes other than COVID-19 in the short, medium and long term while stating a greater understanding of the potential impact of such disruptions is needed in order to weigh the benefits and risks of pursuing specific mitigation strategies.
"In all countries, health systems have been put under extreme pressure, and the true impact of the pandemic in terms of increased sickness and death from other diseases remains to be seen," Tedros said Monday during a briefing on the coronavirus.