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Amid attention on coronavirus, efforts to address the burden of non-communicable diseases are at a critical juncture.
COVID-19 continues to impact us all. It has changed the way we work and how we engage with each other. From a global health perspective, it has highlighted the need for integrated healthcare systems that can effectively manage both chronic and infectious diseases with equal focus.
Across all countries, the pandemic has forced governments and their healthcare systems to address a threat that is tangible, versus various threats that are not as easily identifiable, such as non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Choosing to focus on infectious diseases and diverting from chronic diseases can be problematic, as NCDs not only affect human health but also jeopardize development and economic progress.1
Emerging countries account for 85% of premature NCD deaths.2 While these figures are alarming and unacceptable, there is an opportunity to lead the conversation in changing these outcomes.
This change will require us to address troubling trends we are seeing globally due to COVID-19. These trends include the reassigning of NCD care staff to support COVID-19 efforts, the postponement of public NCD screening programs, and reduced utilization of primary healthcare services. While some actions are required due to overburdened healthcare systems and the immediate need to address the threat of COVID-19, it is still worrying, as it causes a significant disruption in the prevention and treatment of NCDs, especially, in low- and middle-income countries.
These steps also do not take into consideration the burden that unaddressed NCDs place on healthcare systems and, by proxy, the economy. By reallocating resources away from the prevention, treatment, and management of NCDs, we are creating an environment that puts added pressure on the system. An example is hypertension, which is often asymptomatic and requires acute care when not diagnosed or poorly managed, leading to further complications.
The microeconomic burden from NCDs is exerted directly through loss of productivity, not only from patients but also their caregivers, as well as indirectly through out-of-pocket expenditure on medical care.3
The world is at a critical juncture. In this current landscape, our mission to relieve the burden of NCDs for every patient everywhere is a commitment we are tirelessly working toward and is greatly needed, given the deadly interplay between the COVID-19 pandemic and the NCD epidemic.
As you read this, you may ask “What can be done given the significant threat of COVID-19?”
As healthcare systems allocate resources and develop strategies, we must keep in mind that despite COVID-19’s rapid spread, it is still unlikely to overtake the prevalent figures of NCDs. In fact, it is the high prevalence of NCDs that provides the conditions that make people so vulnerable to COVID-19.
Addressing this interplay between the pandemic and NCD epidemic requires a multisectoral approach. All stakeholders, including governments, patient groups, medical societies, healthcare providers, and the private sector must be committed to work collaboratively to address the threat NCDs pose while also managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we begin the development of plans to help healthcare systems address a multitude of issues, including NCD care guidelines, the financial strain this pandemic and NCDs place on healthcare systems, digital solutions to ensure patients have continuity of care during and after this pandemic, and the mental health impact of COVID-19, let’s keep in mind the importance of focusing on both chronic and infectious diseases.
Menassie Taddese, President, Emerging Markets, Upjohn, a division of Pfizer.He can be reached at Menassie.Taddese@pfizer.com.