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Indirect Effects on Maternal and Child Mortality from the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence from Disruptions in Healthcare Utilization in 18 Low- and Middle-Income Countries
41 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2021More...
Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has had wide-reaching direct and indirect impacts on population health. We describe one of the most critical of these secondary consequences, the decrease in the utilization of health services and the resulting consequences for mortality. In low- and middle-income countries, these disruptions can halt progress towards reducing maternal and child mortality.
Methods: Data on service utilization from January 2018 to June 2021 is extracted from health management information systems of 18 low- and lower-middle-income countries. Interrupted time series design is used to estimate percent change in the volumes of essential health services delivered during the pandemic compared to projected volumes based on pre-pandemic trends. The Lives Saved Tool mathematical model is used to estimate the impact of the service utilization disruptions on child and maternal mortality. In addition, the estimated monthly disruptions are also correlated to the COVID-19 burden, time since the start of the pandemic, and relative severity of mobility restrictions.
Findings: We estimate that decreases in essential health service utilization between March 2020 and June 2021 led to 113,873 additional deaths in the 18 countries, representing 3.8% and 1.4% increases in child and maternal mortality, respectively. This corresponds to an average of 2.6 indirect deaths per COVID-19 death officially reported in the same period. This excess mortality results from the decline in utilization of the RMNCH services included in the analysis, but the utilization shortfalls vary substantially between countries, health services, and over time. The largest disruptions, resulting in 27.5% of the excess death, occurred during the second quarter of 2020, regardless of whether countries experienced the highest rate of COVID-19-related deaths during the same months. There is a significant relationship between the magnitude of service disruptions and the stringency of mobility restrictions.
Interpretation: Large declines in health care utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic amplify the pandemic's harmful impacts on health outcomes. As efforts and resource allocation towards prevention and treatment of COVID-19 continue, essential health services must be maintained, particularly in low and middle-income countries.
Funding: The Global Financing Facility for Women, Children, and Adolescents.
Declaration of Interests: We declare no competing interests.
Keywords: COVID-19, Maternal mortality, Child mortality, Essential health services, Health system resilience, service disruptions
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