(Bloomberg) -- Disruption to health systems in lower-income nations during the pandemic has caused an increase in deaths among women and children that’s more than double the toll from Covid-19, new research shows.
The estimates highlight a crisis that’s threatening years of hard-fought progress in improving the health of women and children, according to the Global Financing Facility, launched in 2015 by the World Bank, United Nations and others.
“Most of these countries on average were on an upward trajectory,” Monique Vledder, head of the secretariat for the facility, said in an interview. “This is a huge step back and cannot be underestimated.”
Covid-19 has hobbled health-care services and diverted resources from other important campaigns in many vulnerable nations over the past 18 months. The financing facility is backing efforts to train and protect health workers, promote the use of key services, address vaccine hesitancy and increase supplies of oxygen and blood, among other initiatives.
The virus is having a major ripple effect. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said earlier this month that Covid has pushed its efforts “off track in significant ways.” About one million fewer people with tuberculosis were treated in 2020 compared with 2019, it estimated.
When it comes to women and children, decreases in the use of essential health services between March 2020 and June 2021 led to almost 114,000 additional deaths in 18 countries, according to preliminary findings this month that haven’t been peer reviewed. That’s equivalent to more than two deaths for each reported Covid death, the analysis funded by the facility showed.
Health systems are struggling to meet the challenges posed by Covid on top of a range of other diseases, while economic pain caused by the pandemic makes it harder for some governments to pay the bill, the study found. Public transport shutdowns, perceived changes in the quality of health care and worries about contracting Covid at medical facilities also play a role.
The facility is providing as much as $90 million for Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ghana, Indonesia, Sierra Leone and Uganda, aiming to help countries deal with the current crisis, as well as longer-term threats.
Earlier this year, the financing facility cited a drop of as much as 25% in coverage of essential health services across 36 countries, and announced a $1.2 billion fund-raising campaign. The program is working on boosting access to skilled workers to ensure women survive childbirth and babies are delivered safely, as well as expanding use of oral rehydration for diarrhea to prevent a major cause of child deaths.
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