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COVID-19 disrupts health services for noncommunicable diseases — WHO



Prevention and treatment services for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) have been severely disrupted since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a WHO survey released on Tuesday.

The survey, completed by 155 countries during a three-week period in May, confirmed that the impact was global, but that low-income countries were most affected.

It said that the situation was a significant concern because people living with NCDs were at higher risk of severe COVID-19 related illness and death.

Noncommunicable diseases kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 71 per cent of all deaths globally.

Each year, 15 million people died from an NCD between the ages of 30 and 69 years; more than 85 per cent of these “premature” deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said the results of the survey confirmed what WHO had heard from countries for weeks.

“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,” Ghebreyesus said.

He said the survey showed that health services have been partially or completely disrupted in many countries.

“More than half, 53 per cent of the countries surveyed, have partially or completely disrupted services for hypertension treatment; 49 per cent for treatment for diabetes and diabetes-related complications.

“42 per cent for cancer treatment, and 31 per cent for cardiovascular emergencies.

“Rehabilitation services have been disrupted in almost two-thirds, 63 per cent of countries, even though rehabilitation is key to a healthy recovery following severe illness from COVID-19,” he said.

According to him, in the majority of countries responding, 94 per cent of the ministry of health staff working in the area of NCDs are partially or fully reassigned to support COVID-19.

He noted that the most common reasons for discontinuing or reducing services were cancellations of planned treatments, decrease in public transport available and lack of staff, due to reassignment of health workers to support COVID-19 services.

“In one in five countries, 20 per cent reporting disruptions, one of the main reasons for discontinuing services is a shortage of medicines, diagnostics and other technologies.

“Unsurprisingly, there appears to be a correlation between levels of disruption to services for treating NCDs and the evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak in a country.

“Services become increasingly disrupted as a country moves from sporadic cases to community transmission of the Coronavirus,” he said.

Ghebreyesus said that globally, two-thirds of countries reported that they had included NCD services in their national COVID-19 preparedness and response plans.

“72 per cent of high-income countries reported inclusion compared to 42 per cent of low-income countries.

“Services to address cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease were the most frequently included,” he said.

Ghebreyesus disclosed that 17 per cent of countries reporting, had started to allocate additional funding from the government budget to include the provision of NCD services in their national COVID-19 plan.

He, however, noted that encouraging findings of the survey was that alternative strategies had been established in most countries to support the people at highest risk to continue receiving treatment for NCDs.

Ghebreyesus said that globally, 58 per cent of countries reporting service disruptions were now using telemedicine (advice by telephone or online means) to replace in-person consultations.

He added that triaging to determine priorities had also been widely used in two-thirds of countries reporting.

“Also encouraging is that more than 70 per cent of countries reported collecting data on the number of COVID-19 patients who also have an NCD,” he said.

Commenting, Dr Bente Mikkelsen, Director, Department of Noncommunicable Diseases, WHO, said it would take time before the full extent of the impact of disruptions to health care during COVID-19 on people with noncommunicable diseases was known.

“What we know now, however, is that not only are people with NCDs more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill with the virus, but many are unable to access the treatment they need to manage their illnesses.

“It is very important not only that care for people living with NCDs is included in national response and preparedness plans for COVID-19 -̶  but that innovative ways are found to implement those plans,” Mikkelsen said.

Mikkelsen advised countries to strengthen their health services in order to be better equipped to prevent, diagnose and provide care for NCDs in the future, in any circumstances.

Edited By: Chioma Ugboma/Wale Ojetimi (NAN)



Oluwafunke Temitope Ishola: is a graduate and a professionally trained journalist, with experience in national news reporting/editing and verification at the News Agency of Nigeria. NNN is a Nigerian online news portal that publishes breaking news in Nigeria, and across the world. Our journalists are honest, fair, accurate, thorough and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news in the best interest of the public, because truth is the cornerstone of journalism and they strive diligently to ascertain the truth in every news report. Contact: editor[at]

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