The impact of COVID-19 and national pandemic responses on health service utilisation in seven low- and middle-income countries

Glob Health Action. 2023 Dec 31;16(1):2178604. doi: 10.1080/16549716.2023.2178604.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted health services worldwide, which may have led to increased mortality and secondary disease outbreaks. Disruptions vary by patient population, geographic area, and service. While many reasons have been put forward to explain disruptions, few studies have empirically investigated their causes.

Objective: We quantify disruptions to outpatient services, facility-based deliveries, and family planning in seven low- and middle-income countries during the COVID-19 pandemic and quantify relationships between disruptions and the intensity of national pandemic responses.

Methods: We leveraged routine data from 104 Partners In Health-supported facilities from January 2016 to December 2021. We first quantified COVID-19-related disruptions in each country by month using negative binomial time series models. We then modelled the relationship between disruptions and the intensity of national pandemic responses, as measured by the stringency index from the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker.

Results: For all the studied countries, we observed at least one month with a significant decline in outpatient visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also observed significant cumulative drops in outpatient visits across all months in Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. A significant cumulative decrease in facility-based deliveries was observed in Haiti, Lesotho, Mexico, and Sierra Leone. No country had significant cumulative drops in family planning visits. For a 10-unit increase in the average monthly stringency index, the proportion deviation in monthly facility outpatient visits compared to expected fell by 3.9% (95% CI: -5.1%, -1.6%). No relationship between stringency of pandemic responses and utilisation was observed for facility-based deliveries or family planning.

Conclusions: Context-specific strategies show the ability of health systems to sustain essential health services during the pandemic. The link between pandemic responses and healthcare utilisation can inform purposeful strategies to ensure communities have access to care and provide lessons for promoting the utilisation of health services elsewhere.

Keywords: Covid-19; Global public health; essential health services; health policy; time series modeling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Developing Countries
  • Health Facilities
  • Humans
  • Pandemics

Grant support