How the pandemic has affected the primary healthcare around the world

Over the past few weeks, Medical News Today have investigated the many ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has affected — directly or indirectly — the lives of people all around the globe.

In one feature, we spoke about how restrictive measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus have taken a toll on people’s daily lives and their mental health.

A follow-up presented our readers’ and contributors’ best strategies for coping with this crisis and explained, with reference to scientific studies, why these strategies actually work to boost people’s sense of well-being.

In this Special Feature, we turn to another way in which the COVID-19 pandemic has affected countries all over the world: its impact on primary healthcare.

The World Health Organization (WHO) define primary healthcare as “a whole-of-society approach to health and well-being centered on the needs and preferences of individuals, families, and communities.”

“Primary healthcare,” the WHO explain, “ensures people receive comprehensive care — ranging from promotion and prevention to treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care — as close as feasible to people’s everyday environment.”

Access to healthcare is a fundamental human right, but the strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on healthcare systems everywhere has, in turn, affected many people’s primary care provision.

Impact on expectant parents

Due to fears relating to the spread of the new coronavirus, healthcare providers around the world have been minimizing in-person contact with their patients.

This has affected prenatal care, a crucial aspect of ensuring that pregnant women and developing babies stay healthy throughout pregnancy.

The Office on Women’s Health at the Department of Health & Human Services advise frequent checkups and screenings for pregnant women. They note that these should include one checkup per month during weeks 4–28 of the pregnancy, two per month during weeks 28–36, and weekly checkups from then on until the birth.

Canceled doctor’s appointments

The cancellation of prenatal checkups, or their transfer to a telemedicine approach, was part of a much larger effect on primary care.

Since the WHO declared the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak a pandemic, there has been a widespread concern that, for the time being, it would be unsafe to attend regular appointments at clinics or hospitals.

Around the world, doctors’ offices have closed their doors, and many have switched to telemedicine, following their country’s guidelines.

For instance, in the U.S., the CDC recommend that “healthcare systems prioritize urgent visits and delay elective care to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in healthcare settings.”

Missed vaccines could lead to other outbreaks

And while healthcare organizations such as the CDC continue to stress the importance of immunizing children against other viruses, they also note that the number of children receiving their vaccines has dropped significantly of late.

This could, in part, result from lockdown measures and stay-at-home policies, but it is also likely to be due to the aforementioned cancellations of and delays in primary care appointments.

Sacha Deshmukh, Executive Director of UNICEF U.K., has warned that “up to 117 million children could miss out on vaccines due to the global pandemic.”

“The best defense against disease outbreaks and other health threats is preparedness, which includes investing in building strong health systems and primary health care. […] If we don’t invest in both, we will face not just health consequences but the social, economic, and political fallout that we’re already experiencing in this pandemic.”

– Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Read more here.