In a time of economic crisis and limited resources, it is imperative to prioritize essential health services for those most in need. Reorganization of health services at national, subnational and local levels is one option. It may involve postponing non-essential services and shifting the platform of delivery for some interventions. Decisions regarding the platform of delivery will depend on available resources, capacity of health systems, and the workload of community health workers. Ultimately, these decisions should be guided by the principles of equity, justice, and public health.
The definition of essential health services is not uniformly applied worldwide. It varies by country and disease burden, priority, cost, and feasibility. However, these services are categorized into four broad categories. Listed below are four types of EHS that are most important to the overall health of populations. Some of these categories include sexual and reproductive health, maternal and newborn health, immunization, nutrition, communicable diseases, neglected tropical diseases, emergency and mental health.
The WHO’s Global Strategy and the World Bank’s Disease Control Priorities Third Edition (DCP3) have been cited as standards for EPHS. They are also considered companions to WHO’s guidance on essential health services. Both sets of documents can guide program design and implementation. However, these guidelines are not final and may change. For now, it is a good start to focus on what’s most important to a given country and how it can best achieve its goals.
Regardless of how essential the services may be, the WHO’s operational guidelines for delivering essential health services in an outbreak can assist governments in implementing the necessary interventions to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to providing operational guidance on the delivery of essential health services, the guidelines emphasize the need for each country to define the definition of what constitutes an essential health service. The objectives of the essential health package must be based on the epidemiological profile of the country.
Despite these findings, the World Bank has repeatedly noted the critical importance of establishing a national policy to improve access to health services. It’s no secret that the absence of these services could have serious consequences in Africa and other parts of the world. This strategy may jeopardize decades of progress towards improving life expectancy. The Global Health Cluster and its partners developed the Essential Health Services Prioritization Tool (EHSP-W), an approach to prioritize the most essential health services.
The Global Financing Facility for Women and WHO’s Essential Health Services Guidelines (EHS) provide a framework for countries to measure the continuity of these services in the event of an adversity. The Global Financing Facility for Women supports countries in monitoring the continuity of essential health services, and helps them invest in their readiness in times of crisis. The global health care system has evolved and needs to keep pace with these new requirements.