Health Systems Starting to Recover from Pandemic, WHO Says

ADDIS ABABA – Health systems in countries have started showing the first major signs of health system recovery after three years of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report on the global pulse survey.

By early 2023, countries reported experiencing reduced disruptions in the delivery of routine health services, but highlighted the need to invest in recovery and stronger resilience for the future.

Among the 139 countries that responded to the fourth round of WHO’s pulse survey from Nov 2022 to Uan 2023, countries reported continued disruptions in almost one-quarter of services on average.

In 84 countries where trend analysis is possible, the percentage of disrupted services declined on average from 56% in July-Sept 2020 to 23% in Nov 2022- Jan 2023, the report says.

Persisting disruptions are due to both demand- and supply-side factors, including low levels of health care-seeking in communities as well as limited availability of health workers and other health-care resources such as open clinics or available stocks of medicines and products.

“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,” said Dr. Rudi Eggers, WHO Director for Integrated Health Services.

“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”.

First notable signs of recovery

In the new survey, fewer countries reported intentionally scaling back access across all service delivery platforms and essential public health functions since 2020-2021 reporting, showing an important step to return to pre-pandemic levels of service delivery and broader system functioning.

By the end of 2022, most countries reported partial signs of service recovery, including in services for maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health; nutrition; immunization; communicable diseases; and non-communicable diseases.

The number of countries reporting disruption to their national supply chain system reduced from nearly half to about a quarter – 18 of 66 responding countries- within the last year, says WHO’s survey

Despite signs of recovery, service disruptions persist across countries in all regions and income levels, and across most service delivery settings and tracer service areas.

Countries are also dealing with increasing service backlogs – most frequently in services for screening, diagnosis and treatment of noncommunicable diseases – which can lead to negative consequences as people are delayed access to timely care.

The UN health agency says recovering essential health service delivery is critical because disruptions may have even greater adverse health effects at population and individual levels than the pandemic itself.