Health Systems Across the World Show First Signs Of Recovery Since Pandemic
Countries across the world show first signs of significant recovery of health systems after the pandemic.

Three years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, health systems across the world are showing signs of recovery from its negative impact, with fewer countries reporting on scaling back delivery of essential health services as compared with 2020-21.  

Disruptions to the delivery of essential health services had almost halved by the end of 2022 when compared with the same period in 2021.

The interim report of the fourth Global Pulse survey on the continuity of essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday stated: “The key informant survey results indicate that while essential health service disruptions persist in almost all countries across the globe, health systems are showing the first notable signs of recovery and transition beyond the acute phases of the pandemic”. 

This round of the survey covered responses from 125 countries and concluded that an average of 23% health service types (“tracers”) were disrupted in the last quarter of 2022 (October to December). Taking into account 84 countries that participated in all four rounds of the pulse survey, the service disruption decreased from 56% in the third quarter of 2020 to 23% in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Health services
Level of service disruption across 27 tracer services in 84 countries submitting responses to all four survey rounds

Some of these tracers include 24-hour emergency care, emergency surgeries, rehabilitative services, family planning and contraception, antenatal care, and routine facility-based immunization services. 

While an overall reduction in disruption to the delivery of health services is evident, countries still reported disruptions to around 25% of the tracer items covered through the survey. 

Dr Rudi Eggers, WHO Director for Integrated Health Services, acknowledged the recovery in delivery of health services and added, “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”.

Significant recovery since 2021

The data collected and presented in Tuesday’s report shows a significant positive change from the previous editions. 

The third Global Pulse survey report published in February 2022 stated that over 90% of the countries faced ongoing disruptions in delivering essential health services to its people due to the pandemic.  

In the third edition, healthcare workforce issues emerged as one of the major barriers to delivering essential services in over 35% of the countries that responded to the survey. Additionally, around 53% of the countries reported disruptions in delivering primary health care services and 38% of the countries reported disruptions in the delivery of community care services. 

The disruption in the delivery of primary health care services decreased to 26% in the latest edition of the report and the disruption in providing emergency life-saving care decreased to 16% in the latest edition. 

In the latest report, over 70% of the countries reported that they have successfully budgeted for and integrated COVID-19 services including case management, vaccines and diagnostics in their health systems. However, when it comes to managing post-COVID-19 conditions, only 60% of the surveyed countries stated having budgets and integration strategies for it. 

Around 80% of the countries still reported having at least one challenge in increasing access to one or more essential COVID-19 tool. 

Health services
Bottlenecks to scaling up access to essential COVID-19 tools (n=83)

Countries eye long-term preparedness and resilience

The report also poins out that countries have institutionalized some of the innovative practices that were born out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, like telehealth consultations. 

Around 75% of the countries also reported an increase in their budget allocation towards bolstering and preparing their health systems for the long term. 

Image Credits: MSH, World Health Organization (WHO).

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