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The impact of COVID-19 on primary health care and antibiotic prescribing in rural China: qualitative study

By Tingting Zhang, Xingrong Shen, Rong Liu, Linhai Zhao, Debin Wang, Helen Lambert, Christie Cabral

Posted 02 Mar 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.01.21252602

IntroductionPrimary health care (PHC) system is designated to be responsible for epidemic control and prevention during the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, while COVID-19 suspected cases in PHC are required to be transferred to specialist fever clinics at higher level hospitals. This study aims to understand to impact of COVID-19 on PHC delivery and antibiotic prescribing at community level in the rural areas of central China. MethodsQualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with 18 PHC practitioners and seven patients recruited from two township health centres (THCs) and nine village clinics (VCs) in two rural residential areas of Anhui province. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and thematically analysed. ResultsPractitioners and patients views and perspectives on COVID-19 impacts on PHC services and antibiotic prescribing are organised into four broad themes: switch from PHC to epidemic prevention and control, concerns and challenges faced by those delivering PHC, diminished PHC, and COVID-19 as a different class of illness. ConclusionThe COVID-19 epidemic has had a considerable impact on the roles of rural PHC clinics in China that shifted to public health from principal medical, and highlighted the difficulties in rural PHC including inadequately trained practitioners, additional work and financial pressure, particularly in VCs. Antibiotic prescribing practices for non-COVID-19 respiratory tract infections remained unchanged since the knowledge of COVID-19 was not seen as relevant to practitioners antibiotic treatment practices, although overall rates were reduced because fewer patients were attending rural PHC clinics. Since COVID-19 epidemic control work has been designated as a long-term task in China, rural PHC clinics now face the challenge of how to balance their principal clinical and public health roles and, in the case of the VCs, remain financially viable.

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