The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa Etienne said the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Region of the Americas must include chronic disease care.
As is stands, one in four people are at increased risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19 due to underlying non communicable diseases (NCDs)
At a media briefing on Tuesday Dr. Etienne said, “As cases continue to rise in our region, our efforts to protect those with underlying conditions must intensify.”
She made the statement after noting that more than 2.4 million cases and over 143,000 deaths have made the Americas, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Etienne said they are particularly concerned about the number of new cases reported last week in Brazil, which was the highest for a seven-day period since the outbreak began.
Both Peru and Chile are also reporting a high incidence of cases.
For most countries in the Americas, “now is not the time to relax restrictions or scale back preventive strategies. Now is the time to stay strong, remain vigilant and aggressively implement proven public health measures,” Dr. Etienne said.
“We have never seen such a deadly relationship between an infectious disease and Non-Communicable Diseases. Some of the data are truly alarming. Especially for our region, where NCDs are pervasive. We need aggressive preventive measures to protect people with diabetes, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases from the new coronavirus.”
Persons with diabetes are twice as likely to have severe disease or die, and 28 percent of cancer patients who contracted COVID-19 died, compared with 2 percent of overall patients, she said, citing recent studies. Smoking also increases the chance of severe disease from COVID-19.
Stay at home measures, disruptions in provision of health care services, as well as the fear of attending care facilities have resulted in reduced elective clinic visits and lower access to renal dialysis, cancer care, and delays in high priority treatments for patients with NCDs,.
Prior to COVID-19, 81 percent of all deaths in the Region of the Americas were due to NCDs and 39 percent of these deaths were premature, occurring before 70 years of age.
PAHO’s Director said it was important to find safe methods of delivering essential clinical care for people with NCDs during the pandemic.
“For example, many countries are quickly scaling up telemedicine, prioritizing scheduled appointments to avoid crowded waiting rooms and providing services in novel ways.”
Dr. Etienne said that countries should ensure that supply chains for essential NCD medicines are protected and continue to function efficiently, and that these products are distributed to the people who need them.