COVID-19 OUTCOME

Outpatient visits for children drop by half

Uptake of child vaccines, antenatal care appointments, and skilled birth deliveries also nose-dive

In Summary

• Unicef says the pandemic disrupted supply chains for medical supplies and put pressure on financial and human resources around the world. 

• According to Hellen Kiarie, head of monitoring and evaluation at the Ministry of Health, April was the most affected month. 

Fewer children were vaccinated this year compared to last year.
Fewer children were vaccinated this year compared to last year.
Image: D POLAND/PATH

Unicef has pleaded with Kenyan mothers to take children for clinical visits, saying they are at much higher risk of getting very sick from other causes than Covid-19.

The agency said between March and June this year, outpatient services for the under-fives declined by almost 49 per cent.

Over the same period, uptake of the diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccine declined by nine per cent, antenatal care appointments by 10 per cent, and skilled birth deliveries by four per cent.

"Your children are at much higher risk of getting very sick from other causes than Covid-19," said Maniza Zaman, Unicef representative to Kenya.

"Please seek regular health services when these are due, including antenatal care, going for a safe delivery, immunisation, and growth monitoring. These are critical interventions that have been proven to save the lives of millions of children over the years."

She spoke in Nairobi on Thursday during a forum on the continuity of essential health services during Covid-19 pandemic. The forum was organised by the Health ministry, the Council of Governors and Unicef.

Maniza said the agency has partnered with the Ministry of Health since March, 2020, to support the provision of safe and high-quality essential routine health services such as immunisation, treatment of common childhood illnesses, antenatal services and institutional deliveries for women.

"On behalf of the Government, we have procured and delivered millions of doses of vaccines throughout the country to cover routine immunisation needs," she said. 

Maniza said the disruption of health services was not unique to Kenya. She said the pandemic had disrupted supply chains for medical supplies and put pressure on financial and human resources around the world.

"While the situation has started to improve since July, we have not yet returned to the levels of health service utilisation of before Covid-19, and in previous years," she said. 

"The recent rising numbers of Covid-19 cases, including deaths of health workers, is disturbing and could compromise efforts to revitalize the use of health services."

According to Hellen Kiarie, head of monitoring and evaluation at the Ministry of Health, April was the most affected month. 

“Many indicators experienced a sharp decline around March–April 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak,” she said.

Data captured through the Kenya Health Information System show across all ages, total outpatient visits for January-September 2020 declined by 27 per cent compared to a similar period in 2019.

The biggest drop was in April when only about five million Kenyans visited hospitals compared to 8.5 million in April 2019.

“The number of skilled births in April and May 2020 is the same as 2019 despite expected increase because of increased population,” Kiarie said.