NAIROBI (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic is having a knock-on effect on other vital health services in Africa as countries are forced to redirect already stretched resources, a regional head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
The continent of more than a billion people has been spared the worst consequences of COVID-19, with relatively lower death rates and infections seen elsewhere.
Africa has recorded at least 1.8 million cases, with 43,700 deaths, according to the WHO.
“A preliminary analysis by WHO indicates COVID-19 is hitting other health services really hard,” Matshidiso Moeti, Africa director for the WHO, said in an online press conference.
Lockdowns imposed by countries to halt the spread of the virus in May, June and July contributed to a more than 50% drop in services monitored by WHO.
From January to August, an extra 1.3 million children aged under one missed their first doses of the measles vaccine, compared with the same period last year, Moeti said.
In Nigeria, for example, more than 362,000 pregnant women missed their ante-natal care between March and August.
In August, there were 310 maternal deaths in health facilities, almost double the number recorded at the same time in 2019, she added.
“So while COVID-19 is not overwhelming African health facilities in the way … first predicted … it is really stretching already resourced-limited health systems,” Moeti said.
Moeti said immunisation campaigns against measles and polio had restarted but more needed to be done to protect the gains made in previous years in improving access to health services and outcomes on the continent.
(Reporting by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Alex Richardson)