COVID-19 has disrupted vital healthcare services in more than half of countries recently surveyed by the World Health Organization (WHO), and low-income nations are among the worst hit.
The survey of 155 countries found that 53% now have partially or completely disrupted services for hypertension treatment, with diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular treatments impacted in 49%, 42% and 31% respectively.
Services for these non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are included in the COVID-19 response and preparedness plans of 72% of high-income countries, but the same can only be said for 42% of low-income ones.
The findings also show that rehabilitation services have been disrupted in 63% of all the countries surveyed, even though this is key to a healthy recovery following severe coronavirus illness.
Cancellations of planned treatments, a decrease in public transport available, and a lack of staff due to health workers being reassigned to support COVID-19 patients were the most common reasons for discontinuing or reducing services.
“The results of this survey confirm what we have been hearing from countries for a number of weeks now,” said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“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.”
In 94% of the countries surveyed, ministry of health staff working in the area of NCDs have been partially or fully reassigned to support COVID-19 work.
The findings come on the same day that analytics firm GlobalData warned that COVID-19 may have long-term complications, and increased long-term costs on healthcare systems worldwide.
Intensive care unit (ICU) delirium, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), lung damage, heart damage and neurological issues are all potential long-term complications facing coronavirus patients.
Johanna Swanson, product manager at GlobalData, said: “Severe COVID-19 patients may develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) due to the cytokine storm, which can lead to long-term lung damage and fibrosis.
“The impaired lung function during COVID-19 may also affect other organs such as the heart, kidneys and brain. GlobalData thinks that treatments for lung damage similar to COPD will probably see an increase due to COVID-19 patients.”
Author: Chris Seekings
Image credit: iStock