Covid-19 Pandemic Causing Delays in Normal Medical Services: WHO

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: WHO
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: WHO

At least three quarters of the countries surveyed had redirected NTD staff to Covid-19 activities. 

As the world continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, interruptions and delays are impacting the delivery of services to populations requiring treatment and care for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The longer the disruptions, the higher the chances of NTDs spreading in high-transmission areas – with a risk of undoing decades of progress earned through rigorous scale-up of programmes.

Out of 109 countries that responded to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) last “pulse survey”, 44% reported disruptions. Rates were slightly lower among countries in WHO’s Western Pacific Region, where NTD activities continued to be delivered through integrated services for non-communicable diseases, and in WHO’s European Region, where NTDs are not widespread.

The area most severely affected was large-scale treatment programmes, with 60% of countries reporting disruptions. This included activities related to community awareness, information and health campaigns, psycho-social rehabilitation, surgical procedures, and healthcare services for patients suffering from chronic NTDs.

Furthermore, at least three quarters of the countries surveyed had redirected NTD staff to Covid-19 activities. This included 10% of countries confirming that all NTD staff were repurposed to support work related to the pandemic.

WHO says it continues to provide guidance and assistance to countries and implementing partners on the resumption and implementation of interventions. It is also considering how to deal with NTDs that overlap with the case definition of Covid-19, and how to treat people affected by NTDs who also show signs or symptoms of Covid-19.

WHO has reiterated that it does not recommend the use of ivermectin (a broad-spectrum parasitic medicine) for Covid-19, except for clinical trials. The pandemic has taught us that we must remain vigilant, not only against Covid-19 but also against future threats, WHO said.

These points were discussed during a WHO webinar on NTDs and Covid-19 on 15 October 2021. The webinar also covered how Sightsavers adapted WHO’s interim guidance on NTDs and Covid-19 into an Excel-based tool on risk assessment, to help implementing partners mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and restart treatment.

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Rakesh Raman