Foregone healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic: early survey estimates from 39 low- and middle-income countries

Health Policy Plan. 2022 Jun 13;37(6):771-778. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czac024.


In addition to the direct health effects of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the pandemic has increased the risks of foregone non-COVID-19 healthcare. Likely, these risks are greatest in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where health systems are less resilient and economies more fragile. However, there are no published studies on the prevalence of foregone healthcare in LMICs during the pandemic. We used pooled data from phone surveys conducted between April and August 2020, covering 73 638 households in 39 LMICs. We estimated the prevalence of foregone care and the relative importance of various reported reasons for foregoing care, disaggregated by country income group and region. In the sample, 18.8% (95% CI 17.8-19.8%) of households reported not being able to access healthcare when needed. Financial barriers were the most-commonly self-reported reason for foregoing care, cited by 31.4% (28.6-34.3%) of households. More households in wealthier countries reported foregoing care for reasons related to COVID-19 [27.2% (22.5-31.8%) in upper-middle-income countries compared to 8.0% (4.7-11.3%) in low-income countries]; more households in poorer countries reported foregoing care due to financial reasons [65.6% (59.9-71.2%)] compared to 17.4% (13.1-21.6%) in upper-middle-income countries. A substantial proportion of households in LMICs had to forgo healthcare in the early months of the pandemic. While in richer countries this was largely due to fear of contracting COVID-19 or lockdowns, in poorer countries foregone care was due to financial constraints.

Keywords: COVID-19; Foregone healthcare; LMICs.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Developing Countries
  • Humans
  • Pandemics*