Countries should maintain essential health care to non-COVID-19 patients while dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
This is a message from Secretary-General Patricia Scotland ahead of the Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting taking place virtually on 14 May.
Some countries have temporarily suspended cancer treatment and surgery to help hospitals manage an influx of COVID-19 patients. At the same time, contagion suppression tactics such as lockdowns and border closures have limited the delivery of mosquito nets, insect repellents and vaccination schedules.
Treatment and vaccination disruptions for preventable and curable illnesses could significantly increase mortality, according to the World Health Organization.
The Secretary-General said: “The spread of COVID-19 has brought home to us with greater immediacy the devastating impact that disease can have on every aspect of our lives.
“The global response to COVID-19 has been impressive, but let us not lose focus on other health threats which kill thousands daily and put millions more at risk.
“Authorities should follow guidelines issued by the World Health Organization. They need to determine which health services ought to continue based on their local context and deploy whatever resources are available to deliver maximum treatment and care for all in need.”
A study by Johns Hopkins University predicts that about one million women and children could die in the next six months because the pandemic is disrupting routine health services in low and middle-income countries.
These disruptions include:
Patricia Scotland said: “Even before the present pandemic, our Commonwealth focus has been on the priority of providing Universal Health Coverage, so that all citizens have access to essential health services without financial hardship.
“This is particularly important for pregnant women and young children, to avoid unnecessary mortality, and becomes even more so in mobilising healthcare resources in order to respond effectively to the pandemic.”
As of 7 May, COVID-19 has killed about 264,000 people. Based on the 2017 data, COVID-19 is far behind other diseases in terms of mortality, while heart disease and cancer were the leading cause of death globally killing nearly 18 and 10 million respectively.
Kathleen McCourt, President of the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation, said: “Over the past few months, countries across the world have implemented unprecedented measures to contain the spread of the infection at great economic and human costs.
“It is worthwhile, however, to reflect that existing diseases do not take a holiday.”
Since last week, health organisations have warned that COVID-19 could trigger a spike in malaria and measles cases as some vaccination and prevention measures are on hold.
Prof Kathleen added: “While our focus is on this pandemic and to put the infection and death rates from COVID-19 into a broader perspective.
“It is essential that governments do not neglect the major causes of death and disability in their countries, particularly those affecting the most vulnerable such as women and children.”
She said, like other pandemics, COVID-19 will run its course, but that other major diseases are here to stay unless countries remain vigilant.