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Saturday, 7 November 2020

Access to key health services drops by half

 

Access to key health services in 14 countries including Kenya dropped by more than 50 per cent during the lockdown, compared to a similar period in 2019, the World Health Organization says. 

These services include outpatient consultation, inpatient admission, skilled birth attendance, treatment of confirmed malaria cases and provision of the combination pentavalent vaccine.

The WHO compared these services between January and September in 2020 to the two previous years.

The gaps were widest in May, June and July, corresponding to when many countries had put in place lockdowns to check the spread of Covid-19.

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

She said the new wave of Covid-19 infections could further disrupt life-saving health services, which are only now recovering from the initial impact.

Even prior to the pandemic, maternal mortality in these countries was unacceptably high, accounting for about two-thirds of global maternal deaths in 2017.

In Nigeria, 362,700 pregnant women missed ante-natal care between March and August 2020.

More than 97,000 women gave birth away from health facilities and over 193,000 missed postnatal care within two days of giving birth.

There were 310 maternal deaths in Nigerian health facilities in August 2020, nearly double the figure in August 2019.

Immunisation campaigns covering measles, yellow fever, polio and other diseases have been postponed in at least 15 African countries this year, including in Kenya.

“Now that countries are easing their restrictions, it’s critical that they implement catch-up vaccination campaigns quickly,” Moeti said.

WHO has issued guidance on how to provide safe immunisation services, including how to conduct a careful risk assessment before implementing preventive mass vaccination, with attention to appropriate protective measures to avoid transmission of Covid-19.

The Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia have already carried out catch up vaccination campaigns for measles.

But Kenya is yet to and about seven million children require booster doses.

It is among 13 African countries that aim to restart immunisation campaigns for measles, polio and human papillomavirus in the coming months.

Moeti spoke on Thursday during a virtual press conference. She was joined by Ifedayo Adetifa, a clinical epidemiologist with the Kemri-Wellcome Trust Research Programme and Regina Kamoga, who heads the Uganda Alliance of Patients Organisations.

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