Persons with comorbidities are 96 times more likely to have moderate and severe illnesses and are more than 100 times more likely to die than persons without chronic illnesses, if infected with COVID-19.
Speaking at a recent JIS ‘Think Tank’, Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, explained some of the Ministry’s findings.
“Of the 557 persons we have documented to have comorbid illnesses and risk factors, 312 of these persons have cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension. Many have more than one comorbidity with a combination of cardiovascular disease and diabetes being quite common. The most common comorbidity and risk factor for death is age over 60 years,” she said.
Dr. Bisasor-McKenzie was speaking against the background of Heart Month 2021, which will be observed during the month of February, under the theme ‘COVID and Heart Disease’.
The Chief Medical Officer pointed out that national surveys have shown that a significant portion of elderly persons in Jamaica have comorbid illnesses, of which cardiovascular disease is the most common.
She explained that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has, therefore, prioritised prevention in these groups to avoid or reduce risk of exposure, such as insisting that such persons stay at home, wear their masks and maintain physical distance.
Dr. Bisasor-McKenzie said the Disaster Risk Management Act specifically addresses elderly persons as having to stay at home and maintain precautions at all times.
“It is, therefore, important that these vulnerable groups ensure that they maximise their ability to fight the disease if they should become exposed, and this includes healthy lifestyle choices, exercise, diet, keeping well hydrated, rest and relaxation,” she noted.
“Care for your chronic illness with regular physical examinations. Compliance with medication, and timely and appropriate screening are important in order to ensure that you’re able to fight the disease if you should become exposed,” she added.
Dr. Bisasor-McKenzie also indicated that persons should seek care early. “We have sought to decrease overcrowding in our clinics to promote persons coming to clinics,” the CMO said, adding that the Ministry is also “increasing the use of telemedicine, increasing the length of prescriptions and instituting home delivery for medications for elderly persons”.
She highlighted the importance of the work of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica in assisting persons to know whether they have chronic illnesses and learning to manage them.
“The services at the Heart Foundation are very important in terms of screening, and also in terms of just maintaining care for persons with chronic illnesses, and so, therefore, we would encourage that persons ensure that they follow these few guidelines in terms of caring for their chronic illnesses, to reduce their chance of a severe illness if they should become exposed,” she said.
The CMO reiterated that the thrust of the Ministry at this time in the management of the pandemic is to “focus on our vulnerable populations for prevention, and to enable early detection and early institution of measures to protect the population and, of course, increasing this population’s protection in terms of the care of their chronic illnesses, to make them less likely to get severe illnesses if they should become exposed”.