Brazzaville, 5 November 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a major blow to key health services in Africa, raising concerns that some of the continent’s biggest health challenges could be exacerbated.
Preliminary analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO) of five key essential health indicators, including outpatient consultation, inpatient admission, skilled attendance at birth, treatment of confirmed malaria cases and the provision of the combination of five-and-again vaccine in 14 countries, a sharp decrease in these services between January and September 2020 compared to the two previous years. The gaps were greatest in May, June and July, corresponding to the time when many countries introduced and applied movement restrictions and other social and public health measures to monitor the spread of COVID-19. During these three months, services in the five monitored areas decreased on average by more than 50% in the 14 countries compared to the same period in 2019.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had hidden, dangerous health consequences in Africa. With health resources strongly focused on COVID-19, as well as fears and restrictions on people’s daily lives, vulnerable populations are at increasing risk of to crack the cracks, ‘says Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa.
“We need to strengthen our health systems to better withstand future shocks. A strong health system is the basis for emergency preparedness and response. As countries ease COVID-19 restrictions, we must not leave the door open for the pandemic to reverse , “the dr. Moeti. “A new wave of COVID-19 infections could further disrupt life-saving health services, only now recovering from the initial impact.”
Even before 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 indicate that COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate the health challenges of women and the new. an analysis found that skilled birth attendance had declined in the 14 countries. In Nigeria, 362,700 pregnant women missed antenatal care between March and August 2020. More than 97,000 women gave birth to health care facilities within two days of giving birth and more than 193,000 women missed postpartum care. There were 310 maternal deaths in Nigerian health facilities in August 2020, which was almost double the figure in August 2019.
An additional 1.37 million children across the African region have missed the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine that protects against tuberculosis (TB), and an additional 1.32 million children under one year have their first dose of measles vaccine missed between January and August 2020, then compared to the same period in 2019.
Immunization campaigns that include measles, yellow fever, polio and other diseases have been postponed this year in at least 15 African countries. The launch of new vaccines has been halted and several countries have reported that the vaccine supplies are no longer available.
“Now that countries have relaxed their restrictions, it is critical that they carry out vaccination campaigns quickly,” said Dr Moeti. “The longer, large numbers of children remain unprotected against measles and other childhood diseases, the greater the chance that we will see deadly outbreaks flare up and claim more lives than COVID-19.”
The WHO has issued guidelines on how to provide safe vaccination services, including how to make a careful risk assessment before implementing preventive mass vaccination, with attention to appropriate safeguards to prevent COVID-19 transmission. The Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia have already carried out vaccination campaigns against measles. Thirteen other African countries aim to launch the measles, polio and human papillomavirus vaccination campaigns again in the coming months, and WHO provides guidance on COVID-19 prevention measures to keep health workers and communities safe.
WHO has also led countries on how to ensure the continuity of other essential health services by optimizing service delivery institutions, proposing the redistribution of capacity for health workers and proposing ways to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicines and other health goods.
As part of the COVID-19 response, health workers received capacity building for infection, prevention and control, laboratories were strengthened and data collection and analysis were improved. These efforts support the fight against the virus, while also building health systems.
Dr Moeti spoke at a virtual press conference facilitated by APO Group today. She was accompanied by Professor Ifedayo Adetifa, clinical epidemiologist, KEMRI-Wellcome Trust research program and associate professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and Regina Kamoga, executive director, community health and information network and chair of the Uganda Alliance of Patients Organizations.