WHO bemoans COVID-19 disruption of health services

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South African Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi

BY LORRAINE MUROMO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has bemoaned disruption of women health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, WHO said 40% of African countries had reported disruptions to sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health services due to the COVID-19
lockdowns.

The statement comes at a time when the world will soon commemorate the International Women’s Day.

Earlier this year, South African Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi claimed that over 70% of Zimbabwean women were seeking maternity services in Musina, a border town across the Limpopo River.

WHO said its global pulse survey on continuity of essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic carried out between November and December 2021 revealed that the majority of the 36 African countries that provided full data reported up to 25% disruption of healthcare services.

It said the extent of the disruption remained largely unchanged from the first quarter of 2021.

“Another WHO survey in 11 African countries found that maternal deaths at health facilities in six of the 11 countries rose by 16% on average between February and May 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. The figure dropped slightly in 2021 to 11%,” WHO said.

“However, the estimate is likely to be far higher as maternal deaths tend to occur mostly at home rather than at health facilities. Data shows that facility-based births reduced in 45% of countries between November and December 2021 compared with the pre-pandemic period.”

WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti said: “Two years on, the COVID-19 burden still weighs heavily on women. Africa’s mothers and daughters are struggling to access the healthcare they need. The pandemic’s disruptive force will be felt by women for many years to come.

“Countries must look beyond short-term measures to restore services to pre-pandemic levels and make major investments for stronger systems capable of withstanding health emergencies while ensuring continuity of key services.”

WHO further estimates that 245 million women and girls aged 15 years and above are subjected annually to sexual and physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner.

“During the pandemic, women and girls are facing a rising risk of sexual violence due to lockdowns, economic uncertainties, and decrease in access to key support and a health services, and an increase in stress in households globally, from the latest analysis done in 2021.  The disruptions also affected the uptake of essential reproductive health supplies. The pandemic has also worsened existing gender inequities in key spheres of life and development.”

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