Nepal | January 16, 2021

Maintain essential health services during COVID-19 response: WHO

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World Health Organisation has urged member countries, including Nepal, in the South-East Asia Region to accelerate resumption of disrupted health-care services, hit by the pandemic, as an integral part of the COVID-19 response.

“The pandemic has put immense strain on health systems across the South- East Asia Region. The previous disease outbreaks have shown that disruption of essential services caused by an outbreak can be more deadly than the outbreak itself. We must fast-track efforts and do all we can to avoid that happening, while continuing efforts to break COVID-19 transmission chains,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO South-East Asia Region yesterday.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, cancellation of elective care, closure of outpatient services, insufficient personal protective equipment and change in treatment policy have significantly impacted delivery of essential services.

Additionally, changes in health-seeking behaviour, constrained physical access and financial hardship have also limited service uptake.

Strengthening health system resilience with a focus on primary health care is key to maintaining and strengthening essential health services amid our new normal, the regional director said, adding, that the emergence and spread of COVID-19 has reiterated the critical importance of building strong primary health care system able to withstand acute events while continuing to provide the services required to meet most people’s needs.

Communities must continue to remain at the centre of the response, she said. Attention should be given to understanding the social impact of the pandemic and how it affects the health-seeking behaviour of specially the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups and their access to services.

“We must act with speed and scale to restore and maintain essential health services to protect our many gains in the region. In the past few years, member countries have been driving substantive and conclusive gains in health and well being in line with flagship priority programmes in the region,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

A rapid assessment of 25 essential services carried out by WHO in May showed significant disruptions to essential health services across the world, including WHO South-East Asia region.

Routine immunisation and supplementary measles and rubella campaigns were disrupted in eight of the region’s 11 countries.

Both outpatient and in-patient services for non-communication diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart diseases and cancer, have been greatly affected.

The most affected service has been mental health, which is so critical in these difficult times.

Across the region, family planning, antenatal care and institutional childbirth services have been reduced significantly, impacting our capacity to accelerate reductions in maternal and neonatal mortality, the regional director said.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on August 9, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.

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