EHS-COVID (238) What are 'essential health services'?

22 February, 2021

Over the past few months we have been discussing how to maintain essential health services during the pandemic (and beyond). We'll soon be able to share with you a summary of the discussion so far, with thanks to HIFA volunteers Vaghela Gladson, Sanchika Gupta and Sandra Bearcroft.

Meanwhile, I'd like to invite comment on the question: What are 'essential health services'? Is there an accepted definition of this term?

What is designated as essential will vary from country to country. The WHO guidance on maintaining essential health services during COVID-19 notes: 'Different areas, even within the same country, may require different approaches to designate essential health services'.

I would be interested to hear the experience of any HIFA members who have been involved in designating health services as 'essential' or 'non-essential' in your country, whether before or during the current pandemic.

Also, the WHO Guidance recommends the designation of 'a focal point for essential health services as a member of the COVID-19 Incident Management Team'. If you are a member of a COVID-19 Incident Management Team, please do share your experience by sending email to:

With thanks, Neil

Coordinator, WHO-HIFA Collaboration: HIFA project on Essential Health Services and COVID-19

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: