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Published 2020-08-07 09:04:42
Across the globe, healthcare systems are still confronted with varying levels of strain, rising infection rates, and looming second wave infection spikes. The resultant burden thus far has come in the form of a butterfly effect that has sent ruinous waves through healthcare infrastructure.
For many years, the healthcare industry was seen as being a recession-proof sector due to the fact that people require medical care irrespective of economic conditions within a country. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has ushered in an epoch of many firsts for the healthcare industry. The insurrection of COVID-19 has plighting the healthcare industry with crippled healthcare workforces, lockdown restrictions that delay patient care, temporary closure of practices, furloughs, and layoffs of physicians.
As more healthcare professionals and resources are deployed in the field, healthcare offices and facilities are suffering globally from the decline in other patients. Adam Pyle, Life Healthcare South Africa CEO, said hospital occupancy rates dropped by 40% in April and 50% in May, as patients feared contracting COVID-19. He also stated that the private hospital group expects an average drop of 20% per cent in earnings per share for year ending September, due to less hospital admissions during the outbreak and supply disruptions that have increased operational costs.
In a presentation to Parliament’s health committees, Matthew Prior, Life Healthcare’s funder relations and health policy executive, said private healthcare sector agreed to take patients from the public sector at a cost of R16,000 per bed, per day. He further went on to say that costs would not cover their stock used on patients in intensive care units.
Across the pond in the United States, a report published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the healthcare industry saw its largest decline in jobs with 43,000 retrenchments and an overall employment decrease of 13%.  Furthermore, a report released by the American Hospital Association (AMA) estimates that a total financial impact of $202.6 billion in losses for hospitals and health systems was incurred from the period starting March 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020. This figure factors in costs that include capital costs to expand treatment facility capacity, non-PPE medical supplies and equipment costs, wages and labor costs, and drug acquisition and shortage costs.
While COVID-19 has left an overwhelming financial burden on the healthcare industry, it has also fractured the mechanisms of patient care delivery. In France, physical consultations have been reduced by 40% among general practitioners and 50% among specialists. A large group of healthcare professionals have resorted to Telemedicine as an alternative medium to consult patients. The National Institute for Health Research’s (NIHR) Unit on Global Surgery, a government agency in the United Kingdom, established CovidSurg, a collaborative of researchers focused on studying the impacts of COVID-19 on surgical care. A publication from CovidSurg reported that 28.4 million elective surgeries worldwide will be cancelled or postponed in 2020. 2.3 million of those being cancer related.
The inability of high-risk chronic and other noncommunicable diseases patients to consult is a factor plaguing the healthcare ecosystem. According to the European Union, over 70% – 41 million of total 56 million annual global deaths are due to noncommunicable diseases.  The number is expected to account for more than 75% of all deaths by 2030.  This figure is alarming when you consider the findings from a survey conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The survey included feedback from 155 countries. From that pool, the findings from the survey concluded that health services across several nations had been partially or completely disrupted. 53% of countries have disrupted services for hypertension treatment, 49% for diabetes and diabetes-related complications, and 31% for cardiovascular emergencies.  Out of the 155 surveyed countries, 94% reported that ministry of health staff working in the area of NCDs were partially or fully reassigned to support COVID-19.
“Many people who need treatment for diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes have not been receiving the health services and medicines they need since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It’s vital that countries find innovative ways to ensure that essential services for NCDs continue, even as they fight COVID-19”, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
Healthcare professionals in the frontlines have also suffered from infections, which in turn affect staff capacity. The International Council of Nurses (ICN) estimated that 450,000 healthcare professionals out of 6 million cases worldwide were infected by COVID-19. This figure is based off May statistics. In South Africa, 3600 healthcare professionals had contracted COVID-19, as of June 16.
A journal published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) also mentioned how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting healthcare professionals mentally. Burnout among healthcare workers, increased workload in dangerous conditions, periodic self-isolation from family members, and fear of transmission to family members and colleagues were all factors mentioned that could contribute to the decline of mental health among healthcare professionals. In a study to investigate the psychological Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health care workers in Singapore, a clinical research team of doctors examined the psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and stress experienced by health care workers in Singapore in the midst of the outbreak. Of the 500 invited health care workers, 470 (94%) participated in the study with 68 (14.5%) participants screening positive for anxiety, 42 (8.9%) for depression, 31 (6.6%) for stress, and 36 (7.7%) for clinical concern of PTSD.
2. American Hospital Association. Hospitals and Health Systems Face Unprecedented Financial Pressures Due to COVID-19. Vol. 1, American Hospital Association, May 2020, p. 11,
4;5. “Noncommunicable Diseases - NCDs.” European Commission, 23 Oct. 2018, ec.europa.eu/knowledge4policy/foresight/topic/shifting-health-challenges/non-communicable-diseases-ncds_en.
6. World Health Organization. Rapid Assessment of Service Delivery for Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) during the COVID19 Pnademic. 1st ed., World Health Organization, May 2020, p. 23, www.who.int/publications/m/item/rapid-assessment-of-service-delivery-for-ncds-during-the-covid-19-pandemic. Accessed 9 July 2020.
7. More than 600 Nurses Die from COVID-19 Worldwide.” ICN - International Council of Nurses, International Council of Nurses, 3 June 2020, www.icn.ch/news/more-600-nurses-die-covid-19-worldwide. Accessed 9 July 2020.
8. Ehrlich, Haley, et al. “Protecting Our Healthcare Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Apr. 2020, 10.1016/j.ajem.2020.04.024.
9. Tan, Benjamin Y.Q., et al. “Psychological Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Health Care Workers in Singapore.” Annals of Internal Medicine, 6 Apr. 2020, 10.7326/m20-1083.
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Qode Health Solutions is a private company registered in South Africa with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CPC). Qode's majority share holders is vested in Non-profit organisations and fall part of one of 4 group technology-based companies located in Gauteng.