EDITORIAL: Eye on NCDs amidst COVID-19

THE PAHO/WHO Office for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean recently hosted a webinar entitled, “NCDs and COVID-19: Building Back Better Services”.

Reports are that the webinar was developed to explore the relation with NCDs and COVID-19 latest data and operational guidance, with key insights from experts and country perspectives on how to balance the demands of the health system during the pandemic, and how to execute an adaptive, forward-looking strategy inclusive of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) to build back better.

According to PAHO, more than 180 professionals attended the webinar and among them were representatives from Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Education, Commerce, Transport; planning units; non-governmental organisations; regional and international organisations; academia; trade unions; private sector; media; youth representatives and persons living with non-communicable diseases.

PAHO further notes that Sir George Alleyne, Director Emeritus of PAHO/WHO, warned of three uncomfortable truths which we must face, identifying these as an ageing world, the continued presence of NCDs and the emergence of “another infectious disease pandemic”.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of the Department of Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health at PAHO/WHO, identified a need for messages on NCDs and COVID-19 and healthy eating. He is also said to have recommended technical guidance to help manage persons with NCDs and COVID-19 and capacity building in the area of tele-medicine, virtual consultation and mental health support.

Now we can certainly view such a webinar as timely, given that international agencies as well are turning the spotlight on NCDs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

For instance, to help increase the reach of WHO’s efforts to stop the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for the future, the WHO NCD/WIN Working Group on COVID-19 and NCDs has been established to support efforts to “strengthen the design and implementation of policies, including for resilient health systems and health services and infrastructure, to treat people living with NCDs and prevent and control their risk factors during the COVID-19 outbreak, with a particular focus on countries’ most vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19”, taking into account the corresponding commitment made by Heads of State and Government in paragraph 40 of the 2018 UNGA Political Declaration on NCDs.

This is a step in the right direction, given that we are hearing that people who are over 60 years of age and people living with non-communicable diseases and conditions including hypertension and obesity, have a substantially higher risk of becoming severely ill or dying from the virus. COVID-19 is also causing significant disruption of services for the prevention and treatment of NCDs in almost all countries, and this is likely to lead to a long-term upsurge in deaths from NCDs, according to the WHO.

Here in Barbados, we need to see more action being taken to help persons living with NCDs take better control of their lives and better manage their ailments and this comes into focus even more so during this pandemic. So any attention drawn to this matter is welcomed.

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