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Overcoming the COVID-19 Disruption to Essential Health Services

It is clear that COVID-19 will persist much longer than anticipated. If countries do not take action soon to ensure the continuity of essential health services during the pandemic, the future death toll from communicable and noncommunicable diseases will be unacceptably high.

KIGALI – Health-care delivery in nearly every country has been disrupted by policymakers’ mistaken initial assumption that health systems would quickly win the fight against COVID-19. As the pandemic’s caseload and death toll are increasing daily, it is often stalling or reversing hard-won progress on minimizing the impact of other diseases, from diabetes to malaria.

At the start of the pandemic, many policymakers and health leaders considered a relatively short disruption of essential health services acceptable, but it is now clear that COVID-19 will persist much longer than anticipated. Countries can no longer postpone the delivery of crucial health services. Without immediate action to ensure their continuity, the future death toll from communicable and non-communicable diseases will be unacceptably high.

In a grim recent assessment of the global costs of the COVID-19 crisis, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reported that in 25 weeks, the pandemic had set the world back about 25 years in terms of vaccine coverage – a good proxy for how health systems are functioning overall. Clearly, now is the time to make sure that essential health services are not left behind.

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