doctor holding hand

Maintaining essential health services and systems

The COVID-19 outbreak has been pressuring health systems around the world for more than a year. Due to its severity, the fight against COVID-19 has consumed the financial and human resources of health systems and has led to a reduction of access to health facilities, a reduction of staffing available to provide care and a lowered service capacity at health care facilities for other pathologies. Many routine and elective services have been suspended and existing delivery approaches are being adapted to the evolving pandemic context as the risk–benefit analysis for any given activity changes. Lack of essential health services and reduced health service capacity contribute to preventable morbidity and mortality and must be addressed to avoid long-term repercussions. To build resilient health systems, today’s investments must strengthen essential public health functions. Regular monitoring of service availability, access barriers and use of health services at all levels of care should guide programming decisions and priorities.

WHO supports national authorities in creating action plans to target key activities during these unprecedented times. Response protocols are complemented by purpose-designed governance, finance, coordination and monitoring mechanisms to ensure adequate management of health systems. Essential services are identified according to the context and given special attention in humanitarian settings. To provide practical actions to maintain access to high-quality, essential health services in the pandemic context, WHO has published the document Maintaining essential health services: operational guidance for the COVID-19 context interim guidance which is updated regularly to the intention of decision-makers and managers at national and sub-national levels.

WHO provides guidance on a set of targeted immediate actions that countries should consider at national, regional, and local level to reorganize and maintain access to essential quality health services for all.


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