Global survey on disruption and mitigation of neurological services during COVID-19: the perspective of global international neurological patients and scientific associations

Background
The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has dramatically disrupted healthcare systems. Two rapid WHO pulse surveys studied disruptions in mental health services, but did not particularly focus on neurology. Here, a global survey was conducted and addresses the impact of the pandemic on neurology services.

Methods
A cross-sectional study was carried out in which 34 international neurological associations were asked to distribute the survey to national associations. The responses represented the national situation, in November–December 2020, with regard to the main disrupted neurological services, reasons and the mitigation strategies implemented as well as the disruption on training of residents and on neurological research. A comparison with the situation in February–April 2020, first pandemic wave, was also requested.

Findings
54 completed surveys came from 43 countries covering all the 6 WHO regions. Overall, neurological services disruption was reported as mild by 26%, moderate by 30%, complete by 13% of associations. The most affected services were cross-sectoral neurological services (57%) and neurorehabilitation (56%). The second wave of the pandemic, however, was associated with the improvement of service provision for diagnostics services (44%) and for neurorehabilitation (41%). Governmental directives were the major cause of services’ disruption (56%). Mitigation strategies were mostly established through telemedicine (48%). Almost half of respondents reported a significant impact on neurological research (48%) and educational activities (60%). Most associations (67%) were not involved in decision making for neurological patients’ issues by their national government.

Interpretation
The COVID-19 pandemic affects neurological services and raises the universal need for the development of neurological health care at the policy, systems and services levels. A global national plan on mitigation strategies for disruption of neurological services during pandemic situations should be established and neurological scientific and patients associations should get involved in decision making.

Disruptions of neurological services, its causes and mitigation strategies during COVID-19: a global review

Background
The COVID-19 pandemic leads to disruptions of health services worldwide. To evaluate the particular impact on neurological services a rapid review was conducted.

Methods
Studies reporting the provision of neurological services during the pandemic and/or adopted mitigation strategies were included in this review. PubMed and World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 database were searched. Data extraction followed categories used by WHO COVID-19 pulse surveys and operational guidelines on maintaining essential health services during COVID-19.

Findings
The search yielded 1101 articles, of which 369 fulfilled eligibility criteria, describing data from 210,419 participants, being adults (81%), children (11.4%) or both (7.3%). Included articles reported data from 105 countries and territories covering all WHO regions and World Bank income levels (low income: 1.9%, lower middle: 24.7%, upper middle: 29.5% and high income; 44.8%). Cross-sectoral services for neurological disorders were most frequently disrupted (62.9%), followed by emergency/acute care (47.1%). The degree of disruption was at least moderate for 75% of studies. Travel restrictions due to lockdowns (81.7%) and regulatory closure of services (65.4%) were the most commonly reported causes of disruption. Authors most frequently described telemedicine (82.1%) and novel dispensing approaches for medicines (51.8%) as mitigation strategies. Evidence for the effectiveness of these measures is largely missing.

Interpretation
The COVID-19 pandemic affects all aspects of neurological care. Given the worldwide prevalence of neurological disorders and the potential long-term neurological consequences of COVID-19, service disruptions are devastating. Different strategies such as telemedicine might mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic, but their efficacy and acceptability remain to be seen.