Brazzaville, November 5, 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to key health services in Africa, raising concerns that some of the continent’s major health problems are worsening.
A preliminary study by the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted in 14 countries on five indicators of essential health services, including outpatient care, hospitalization of patients, childbirth in the presence of qualified personnel, the treatment of confirmed malaria cases and the provision of a combined pentavalent vaccine reveals a significant drop in the delivery of these services between January and September 2020 compared to the previous two years.
Differences in benefits were greatest in May, June and July, which is the period when many countries had to impose movement restrictions and other social and public health measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. During these three months, service delivery in the five areas studied fell by more than 50% on average in the 14 countries compared to the same period in 2019.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had indirect and dangerous health impacts in Africa. To the extent that health resources are heavily focused on COVID-19, coupled with fear and restrictions on people’s daily lives, vulnerable populations face an increasing risk of falling through the cracks,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
We need to strengthen our health systems to better withstand future crises. A robust health system is the foundation of emergency preparedness and response. As countries relax COVID-19 restrictions, we must not let the pandemic resurface,” Dr. Moeti added. “A new wave of COVID-19 infections could further disrupt critical health services that are just recovering from the initial impact.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa was at an unacceptable level, accounting for about two-thirds of maternal deaths worldwide in 2017.
Preliminary data indicate that COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate the health challenges women face, and a new analysis reveals that deliveries with qualified personnel have fallen in all 14 countries. In Nigeria, 362,700 pregnant women were left without prenatal care between March and August 2020. More than 97,000 women gave birth outside of health facilities and more than 193,000 did not receive post-natal care within two days of delivery.
There were 310 maternal deaths in Nigeria’s health facilities in August 2020, almost double the number in August 2019.
1.37 million more children in the entire African region have not had the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine which protects against tuberculosis and 1.32 million more children under one year old, did not get the first dose of measles vaccine between January and August 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.
Immunization companions against measles, tuberculosis, yellow fever, polio and other diseases have been repelled in at least 15 African countries this year. The introduction of new vaccines has been suspended and several countries have experienced vaccine shortages.
The WHO also provided countries with advice on how to ensure the continuity of other essential health services by optimizing the parameters for the delivery of these services, redistributing the resources allocated to health workers and proposing ways to ensure a continuous supply of medicines and other health goods.
As part of the COVID-19 response, health workers have benefited from strengthened infection prevention and control capacity, strengthened laboratories, and improved data collection and analysis. These efforts are contributing to the fight against the virus while strengthening health systems.
Dr Moeti spoke today at a virtual press conference hosted by the APO Group. She was joined by Professor Ifedayo Adetifa, epidemiologist at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme and Associate Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Professor Régina Kamoga, Executive Director of the Community Health and Information Network and Chair of the Ugandan Alliance of Patient Organizations (UAPO).