A new study by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has found that extensive disruptions in the diagnosis and management of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Americas, including the Caribbean, occurred during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
PAHO said that the study found that the situation had a “significant adverse impact on the region”.
The study, titled “What is the NCD service capacity and disruptions due to COVID-19? Results from the WHO non-communicable disease country capacity survey in the Americas region,” has been published in the British Medical Journal.
It revealed “significant and sustained disruptions,” affecting all countries of the region from 2019 to 2021, regardless of the level of investment in healthcare or NCD burden.
“People with NCDs require timely diagnosis, continuous treatment and access to essential medicines, as well as ongoing monitoring of their conditions,” Silvana Luciani, Chief of Noncommunicable Diseases at PAHO and one of the authors of the study.
“Yet the study shows that many countries were unable to meet these demands over the past three years,” she added.
The study found that while 81 per cent of the 35 countries surveyed identified NCDs services as part of the government’s core set of essential health services to be maintained during the pandemic, only 34 per cent reported functioning outpatient services for NCDs.
It said over 90 per cent reported disruptions in the provision of essential primary care services, including cancer screening and the management of diabetes and hypertension.
A quarter of all countries also reported stock-outs of diagnostic tools, as well as essential medicines and technologies for the treatment and management of NCDs.
To mitigate some of these disruptions, 67 per cent of countries replaced in-person consultations with telemedicine, and others implemented home-based care, triage and prioritization of care based on the severity of the condition.
“While more data is certainly needed, the results of this study are concerning,” said Luciani, noting that “around 240 million people currently live with a chronic condition in the Americas”.
She said access to diagnosis and treatment services for NCDs is essential to managing these conditions and preventing premature death.
PAHO said it is recommending integrating NCDs into universal health coverage and access, with a focus on ensuring affordable, quality care for NCD prevention and treatment as part of primary health care and empowering people living with NCDs to manage their conditions.
In addition, NCDs should be considered as part of national emergency preparedness plans to ensure the continuity of essential NCD services, even during health emergencies and natural disasters.
PAHO said it will continue to provide support to countries of the Americas to maintain essential services. It said it is also working to mitigate some of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic by publishing guidelines to assist with triaging patients, telemedicine, multi-month prescribing, and the reorganization of oncology services.
WASHINGTON, Mar 28, CMC