There is increasing evidence that people living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension and diabetes are more susceptible to severe or lethal Covid-19 infections, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Africa.

According to a WHO preliminary analysis of 14 African countries hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma are the co-morbidities most associated with Covid-19 patients. These chronic conditions require continuous treatment but as governments shift focus to the pandemic, health services for NCDs have been severely disrupted.

“Millions of Africans living with NCDs are at greater risk of complications or dying from Covid-19. It is very concerning to find that just when people with hypertension and other chronic conditions most need support, many are being left out in the cold,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

South Africa accounts for nearly half of all Covid-19 cases and deaths on the continent. Of the Covid-19 cases admitted to hospital, 61% had hypertension and 52% had diabetes. Among the fatalities in the 60–69 age group, 45% also had hypertension.

In Kenya, around half of Covid-19 deaths occurred in people with NCDs. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 85% of those who succumbed to the disease also had NCDs.

Neglecting NCDs

Even before the pandemic, NCDs were a major health challenge, impacting a growing number of Africans, says the WHO. In 2015, NCDs killed 3.1 million people in Africa, up from 2.4 million in 2010.

In a recent WHO survey of 41 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 22% of countries reported that they only had emergency inpatient care for chronic conditions. Meanwhile, 37% of countries reported that outpatient care is limited.

The pandemic disrupted hypertension management  in 59% of the surveyed countries. Furthermore, diabetic complications management has been disrupted in 56% of the countries.

The closure or slowdown in services is likely to further aggravate the underlying conditions of patients, leading to more severe cases of NCDs. It also increases the susceptibility of people living with chronic conditions to Covid-19.

The WHO recommends controlling the use of tobacco and alcohol because both increase the risk of NCDs.

South Africa flattens Covid-19 curve

For seven consecutive weeks, South Africa has seen a decline in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases, the WHO Africa noted. Currently, the country is recording fewer than 2000 cases a day. Just two months ago, officials recorded about 12 000 cases each day. Health care officials have also noticed a steady drop in the demand for hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen and other essential medical needs.

“The latest trends in South Africa are clearly encouraging. However, we must remain vigilant and be prepared to effectively tackle any resurgence. We are not yet out of the woods and so we must not relax,” said Moeti.

“The strong commitment and leadership by the South African government has been instrumental in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. Without this dedication we would not be where we are today,” added the director.

Learn more about the impact of Covid-19 on non-communicable diseases here. – Health-e News