EHS-COVID (72) Q1 How has COVID-19 affected the delivery of essential health services? (12) COVID-19 in the Eastern Mediterranean Region

20 November, 2020

Below are the citation and selected extracts of a new Comment in The Lancet, written by WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region director and colleagues.

CITATION: Tackling COVID-19 in the Eastern Mediterranean Region

Ahmed Salim Al-Mandhari, Richard J Brennan, Abdinasir Abubakar, Rana Hajjeh

Published: November 19, 2020


COVID-19 has substantially impacted the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR), home to nearly 700 million people across 22 diverse countries. Since the first reported confirmed case in January, 2020, 3 611 352 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 91 738 deaths were reported in the region as of Nov 17, 2020. Most countries saw fairly slow transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) during the early months of the pandemic but in May, as social measures, such as restrictions and partial or full lockdowns, were relaxed during the holy month of Ramadan, disease transmission accelerated...

Among the eight EMR countries affected by conflict and humanitarian emergencies — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the occupied Palestinian territory, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — COVID-19 attack rates are substantially lower than in other countries in the region (median 73 cases per 100 000 population vs 1343 cases per 100 000)...

The main challenges to the COVID-19 response in the EMR include information sharing, expanding public health measures, protecting health workers, achieving behaviour change, ensuring continuity of essential health services, and establishing reliable supply chains...

#Maintaining essential health services and systems

The COVID-19 pandemic has compromised delivery of essential health services (EHS) in the region, as countries repurposed health systems to respond. About 75% of EHS had some level of disruption in 13 countries, mostly affecting routine immunisations, dental services, rehabilitation services, and family planning. Countries are now increasingly prioritising continuity of EHS, using WHO's operational guidance. In addition, the pandemic has exposed the fragility of the medical supply chain; there have been shortages of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and diagnostics in all EMR countries...


Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, WHO-HIFA Collaboration: HIFA project on Essential Health Services and COVID-19

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: