Urgent action needed to reverse Covid-19 impact on healthcare


The government’s response to the pandemic will have long-lasting consequences on the health system. FILE PHOTO | NMG

In the recent past, the government has mobilised resources to limit the spread and reduce mortality from Covid-19. Apart from the medical interventions, other measures taken include restriction of movement, wearing masks in public and reducing public transport and closure on non-essential businesses such as bars.

Some of these restrictions have played a great part in curbing more infections. However, there has been some negative impacts on the economy and aspects of health care. Most affected are the informal sector employees estimated to be 70 percent of the country’s population.

Loss of income, rising prices and excessive burden on the social safety nets will further push the vulnerable groups into poverty and increasing the financial and other barriers to accessing medical services. From past experiences, the outbreak of infectious diseases indirectly led to a reduction in the supply and use of conventional health services and an increase in mortality. It is worth noting that in 2014, the Ebola virus epidemic resulted in a 27.6 percent reduction in service use and a 44.3 percent reduction in hospital services in West Africa ’s high-incidence areas. During the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic in 2003, outpatients in Taiwan decreased by 23.9 percent and inpatients by 35.2 percent.

United Nations Children’s Fund has already warned that an additional 6,000 children could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to weaken health systems and disrupt routine services. The estimate is based on an analysis by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in The Lancet Global Health journal. These potential child deaths will be in addition to the 2.5 million children who already die before their 5th birthday every six months in the 118 countries included in the study, threatening to reverse nearly a decade of progress on ending preventable under-five mortality.

In a typical hospital in Kenya, there are many babies but few nurses. Secondly, even when they have the personnel, they do not have adequate lifesaving equipment. According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey, neonatal mortality is at 22 deaths per 1,000 live births. For those who survive, they face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities and visual and hearing problems. Nairobi’s mortality is nearly double the national number at 39 neonates dying per 1,000 live births.

The pandemic has slowed down our economic growth and immediate upscaling our health facilities may take longer than we had projected. Perhaps one of the interventions we could adopt is for babies are some cost-effective interventions.

An example Pumani BubbleCPAP, which delivers a blended flow of oxygen and room air to infants in respiratory distress. The device has been tested in Malawi for the past ten years with remarkable success and is currently being used at the Nyeri County Referral Hospital. The government’s response to the pandemic will have long-lasting consequences on the health system.

The writer is Executive Director, Centre for Public Health and Development.