Geneva (Reuters) – More than 90% of countries have seen general health services being disrupted by the COVID-19 epidemic, with major gains in medical care vulnerable to being erased in decades, a World Health Organization showed.
The Geneva-based body has often warned of other life-saving programs affected by the epidemic and advised countries to mitigate, but the survey found the first WHO data on the scale of the disruptions.
“The impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on essential health services is a matter of great concern,” a report on the study released on Monday said. “The major health benefits achieved in the last two decades can be eliminated in a short time …”
The survey includes responses from more than 100 countries between May and July. The services most affected included routine immunization (70%), family planning (68%) and cancer diagnosis and treatment (55%), while emergency services were troubled in about a quarter of countries.
The Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, was the most affected by the African and Southeast Asian regions, it has been shown. The US was not part of the survey.
Since the COVID-19 cases were first identified in December last year, the virus is believed to have killed about 850,000 people, the latest Reuters tally showed.
Researchers believe non-COVID deaths in some locations have also increased to some extent due to healthcare disruptions, although these may be difficult to calculate.
The WHO survey stated that it was reasonable to hypothesize that a slight disruption in essential health services could cause morbidity and mortality from moderate and long-term causes other than COVID-19. Further research was needed.
It also warned that barriers could be felt even after the epidemic had ended. “This effect can be felt beyond the immediate epidemic, as in trying to get a grip on services, countries may feel that resources have been destroyed.”
Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Mark Heinrich