COVID-19: how to manage the needs of people with chronic diseases

A comment published in The Lancet draws attention to the difficulties faced by people with non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and obesity, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The article, in which the ISPUP researcher Romeu Mendes participates, and whose first author is Hans Kluge, Regional Director of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, points to solutions that can be adopted by each country to address the needs of individuals with chronic diseases.

Non-communicable diseases are a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. In particular, the WHO European region is most affected by these conditions and their growth in the European region is of great concern.

Some reports and studies show that chronic conditions, such as hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, increase the risk of severity of COVID-19, which can lead to hospitalization in intensive care and even to death.

As Romeu Mendes explains, “the evolution of the pandemic exposed the vulnerability of people with chronic diseases, not only to COVID-19, but also to the effects of confinement, and to the reorganization of health services in response to this new virus”.

The recently published comment highlights that the imposed containment measures, due to the pandemic, appear to potentiate behavioral risk factors for chronic diseases, such as unhealthy eating, physical inactivity, tobacco consumption and alcohol abuse.

At the same time, “the cancellation or postponement of appointments, surgeries and complementary diagnostic tests, as well as restrictions on public transport and the movement of people – which hinder the acquisition of food, medicines, and other services – have been reported as factors for the disruption of the management of these diseases”, says the researcher.

Solutions offered

Bearing in mind the difficulties presented, the publication offers solutions that can be implemented and adapted by each country to address the needs of people with non-communicable diseases.

Some of the suggestions include the use of technology in this response, through telemedicine and the electronic renewal of prescription drugs, digital health promotion and education actions aimed at citizens (SMS, social networks or other similar means) with a focus, for example, on mental health, physical exercise at home and preparing healthy meals. Investing in ordering and home delivery systems for essential goods, such as medicines and healthy food is another measure suggested.

In virus screening actions, the importance of giving priority to people with non-communicable diseases is highlighted, and also considering the associated network of formal and informal caregivers. Additionally, the authors emphasize the need to provide personal protective equipment and specific training to health professionals who treat these patients and who may themselves be at greater risk of developing these pathologies.

For Romeu Mendes, who is also a consultant for the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, “the response to the COVID-19 pandemic (and possible future pandemics) must be planned and adapted in order to integrate the continuity of measures for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, involving patients themselves, their families and caregivers, as well as health services”.

The article is entitled Prevention and control of non-communicable diseases in the COVID-19 response. The researcher João Breda, a former student of the Universidade do Porto and current Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, also participated in the article. 

Image: Unsplash/i yunmai

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