Cape Town - The Covid-19 pandemic has placed a strain on health systems worldwide and the rapidly increasing demand for health facilities and healthcare workers threatens to overstretch some, hampering their effectiveness, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.
Previous outbreaks have demonstrated that when health systems are overwhelmed, mortality from vaccine-preventable and other treatable conditions can also increase dramatically.
During the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, the increased number of deaths caused by measles, malaria, HIV/Aids, and tuberculosis attributable to health system failures exceeded deaths from Ebola, the WHO said.
To help countries navigate through these challenges, the WHO has updated operational planning guidelines in balancing the demands of responding directly to Covid-19 while maintaining essential health service delivery, and mitigating the risk of system collapse.
This includes a set of targeted immediate actions that countries should consider at national, regional, and local level to reorganise and maintain access to high-quality essential health services for all.
The WHO is calling on countries to identify essential services that will be prioritised in their efforts to maintain continuity of service delivery and make strategic shifts to ensure that increasingly limited resources provide maximum benefit for the population.
They also need to comply with the highest standard in precautions, especially in hygiene practices, and the provision of adequate supplies including personal protective equipment. This requires robust planning and coordinated actions between governments and health facilities and their managers, WHO said.
Some examples of essential services include routine vaccination, reproductive health services including care during pregnancy and childbirth, care of young infants and older adults, management of mental health conditions as well as noncommunicable diseases and infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria and TB, critical inpatient therapies, management of emergency health conditions, auxiliary services such as basic diagnostic imaging, laboratory services and blood bank services.
The WHO says the guidelines stress the importance of keeping up-to-date information.
This requires frequent transparent communications with the public, and strong community engagements so that the public can maintain trust in the system to safely meet their essential needs and to control infection risk in health facilities.