A recent World Health Organization survey finds significant disruption in delivering treatment for lifestyle diseases in the wake of the pandemic. Low-income countries are the worst affected.
Health experts fear the stir created as a result of shifting attention to the pandemic will affect COVID-19 patients with NCDs (Non-Communicable Diseases) since they can become “seriously ill” and “many are unable to access the treatment they need to manage their illnesses.”
“Many people who need treatment for diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes have not been receiving the health services and medicines they need since the COVID-19 pandemic began:” WHO Director-Generel (Image via @east_facts Twitter)
Ever since the pandemic began, treatment of noncommunicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension has been compromised severely across the world. The survey was conducted across 155 countries for a span of 3-week in May. Although the impact is worldwide, WHO notes, the effect is severe in low-income nations.
NCD kill 71% of all deaths globally, equivalent to 41 million people every year. More than 85% of the premature deaths from NCD — between ages 30-69 — occur in the lower and middle-income nations.
“Many people who need treatment for diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes have not been receiving the health services and medicines they need since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It’s vital that countries find innovative ways to ensure that essential services for NCDs continue, even as they fight COVID-19,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told in a media briefing.
The main findings
The results of the survey indicate alarming rates of treatment disruptions. More than half of the countries indicated partially or completely disrupted hypertension treatment. 49% of the countries have compromised on diabetes and diabetes-related complications; 42% for cancer treatment, and 31% for cardiovascular emergencies.
“The results of this survey confirm what we have been hearing from countries for a number of weeks now,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Rehabilitation — the key to recovery following a severe illness from COVID-19 — have been disrupted in more than half (63%) of the countries.
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It must be noted, WHO recommends minimizing non-urgent facility-based care like different screening programs, whilst tackling the pandemic. However, a postponement of public service screening was noted in more than 50% of the countries the reason for which was not based on WHO recommendation.
Public screenings were disrupted because there “were cancellations of planned treatments, a decrease in public transport available, and a lack of staff because health workers had been reassigned to support COVID19 services.”
However, there are some encouraging metrics though- 58% of countries with severe disruptions have device alternative methods to treat NCDs like practicing telemedicine (the practice of prescribing medicines online or through phone) avoiding in-person contacts. The figure for low-income countries is 42%.