Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, is calling on member countries to implement “aggressive” preventive measures to safeguard persons with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) against the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Speaking during PAHO’s weekly COVID-19 digital media briefing on Tuesday (May 26), Dr. Etienne cites the disproportionate impact of the virus on people suffering from NCDs, including cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, such as asthma.
Noting that there are more than 63 million people in the region of the Americas living with NCDs, she said this equates to approximately one in four persons who are at increased risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19, due to these underlying health conditions.
Additionally, she said the pandemic has disrupted routine health service delivery to NCD patients who normally count on this provision to manage their illnesses.
This, Dr. Etienne pointed out, includes the redirection of many healthcare workers who routinely attend to these persons to the COVID-19 response, noting that this is adversely impacting the timely diagnosis and treatment of these underlying conditions.
“Furthermore, some countries experienced disruption of supply chains as well as challenges to the distribution of medicine and health products, all of which impact access,” she added.
The PAHO Director pointed out that stay-at-home measures, disruptions in the provision of healthcare services, as well as the fear by some persons of attending care facilities, “have resulted in reduced elective clinic visits and lower access to renal dialysis, cancer care, and delays in high priority treatments for patients with NCDs”.
“This puts patients at a higher risk of complications and death from diseases which we know how to treat. This challenge must be addressed head-on by health systems in our region, or we will be faced with a parallel epidemic of preventable deaths of persons with NCDs,” she warned.
Among these interventions, Dr. Etienne said, are: identifying safe methods of delivering essential clinical care for persons with NCDs during the pandemic, such as scaling up telemedicine, and prioritising scheduled appointments to avoid crowded waiting rooms.
“We also must ensure that supply chains for essential NCD medicines are protected and continue to function efficiently, and that these products are distributed to the people who need them,” she added.
Additionally, Dr. Etienne emphasised the need to assist persons with NCDs to “protect themselves from COVID-19”, in order to minimise the associated risks.
“This means providing them with the resources, the support systems and information needed to protect themselves. We also must ensure timely access to care for chronic diseases to prevent them from becoming life-threatening,” Dr. Etienne said.
She pointed out that PAHO is working with countries in the region and providing guidance to help plan and implement these measures.
Dr. Etienne informed that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Americas rose to 2.4 million up to May 25, with more than 143,000 deaths.
“As [COVID-19] cases continue to rise in our region, our efforts to protect those with underlying conditions must intensify. Fighting NCDs now, is integral to our response to COVID-19,” she underscored.