COVID-19 hits life-saving health services in Africa

ADDIS ABEBA – The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to key health services in Africa, raising worries that some of the continent’s major health challenges could worsen, according to the world health organization or WHO’s preliminary analysis.

The analysis includes five key essential health service indicators involving outpatient consultation, inpatient admission, skilled birth attendance, treatment of confirmed malaria cases and provision of the combination pentavalent vaccine.

The assessment involving 14 countries finds a sharp decline in these services between January and September 2020 compared with the two previous years.

The gaps were the widest in May, June and July, corresponding to when many countries had put in place and enforced movement restrictions and other social and public health measures to check the spread of COVID-19.

During these three months, the WHO says services in the five monitored areas dropped on average by more than 50% in the 14 countries compared with the same period in 2019.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought hidden, dangerous knock-on effects for health in Africa,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“With health resources focused heavily on COVID-19, as well as fear and restrictions on people’s daily lives, vulnerable populations face a rising risk of falling through the cracks,” she continued.

The UN agency claims, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa was “unacceptably high”, accounting for about two-thirds of global maternal deaths in 2017.

Preliminary data indicates that COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate women’s health challenges and the new analysis found that skilled birth attendance in the 14 countries dropped.

Dr. Moeti said Africans must reinforce their health systems to better withstand future shocks.

“A strong health system is the bedrock for emergency preparedness and response. As countries ease COVID-19 restrictions, we must not leave the door open for the pandemic to resurge,” said Dr Moeti.

“A new wave of COVID-19 infections could further disrupt life-saving health services, which are only now recovering from the initial impact,” she concluded.