Top News

Saturday, Nov 21, 2020 13:30 [IST]

Last Update: Saturday, Nov 21, 2020 07:53 [IST]

A system compromised

Health-care delivery in nearly every country has been disrupted by policymakers’ mistaken initial assumption that health systems would quickly win the fight against Covid-19. As the pandemic’s caseload and death toll are increasing daily, it is often stalling or reversing hard-won progress on minimizing the impact of other diseases, from diabetes to malaria.

At the start of the pandemic, many policymakers and health leaders considered a relatively short disruption of essential health services acceptable, but it is now clear that COVID-19 will persist much longer than anticipated. Countries can no longer postpone the delivery of crucial health services. Without immediate action to ensure their continuity, the future death toll from communicable and non-communicable diseases will be unacceptably high.

With most healthcare professionals focusing on Covid-19 cases, patients suffering from tuberculosis (TB), considered one of the biggest killers in India, are facing neglect, which doctors fear could lead to a rise in the number of cases.

Earlier in March this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) also directed countries with high TB burden to “ensure that essential health services and operations are continued to protect the lives of people with TB”. Patients with TB suffer from compromised lungs. If they contract Covid-19 infection, their survival chances will be extremely low. Keeping their immunity high and avoiding outside contact is therefore essential.

Even before the pandemic, it was estimated that at least half of the world’s 7.8 billion people lacked access to essential health services. Globally, six million children and adolescents, and 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns, die from preventable or treatable diseases annually. Covid-19 has increased these numbers and eroded access to health care.

Global health experts have long been aware of the disruptions a protracted emergency would cause for health services. In 2018, the WHO defined an essential package of services that should be available without user fees during an extended crisis. These include maternal and neonatal health care as well as treatment for communicable and non-communicable diseases, mental health, and neglected tropical diseases.

To achieve positive outcomes, many countries urgently need to overhaul their health-care allocation and delivery systems. Where possible, Covid-19 testing and treatment centers should integrate the provision of essential health services, including screening for conditions such as high-risk pregnancies and chronic diseases.

Moreover, decentralizing health services could strengthen systemic readiness and limit disruption. This will require training an expanded corps of community health workers, including heads of households, teachers, faith leaders, and traditional healers. In Liberia, for example, trained community health assistants play a central role in the Covid-19 response, while still delivering essential services.

Clearly, the disruptions to health-care systems caused by Covid-19 can be overcome. Crucially, countries need to reassess their delivery strategies and make targeted investments in essential health services. Doing so will strengthen their resilience against similar health crises in the future.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi