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COVID-19: Why FG should priotise care for persons living with noncommunicable diseases

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Medical experts have provided more reasons People living with non-communicable diseases (PLWNCDs) are more vulnerable and susceptible to the COVID-19 virus and it has been confirmed that they are at substantially higher risk of becoming severely ill and die as a direct consequence of this pandemic.

It is feared that with over 70,000 COVID-19 cases and counting in Nigeria, the second wave of coronavirus infections is anticipated to impact the population in drastic ways.

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Sadly, the high mortality and morbidity amongst PLWNCDs would be on a progressive increase with the recent resurgence of COVID 19 in Nigeria.

Several reports have shown that in many countries, PLWNCDs are facing the most threats and challenges at this time. According to the Nigeria Heart Foundation (NHF), although all age groups of PLWNCDs are at risk of contracting COVID-19, PLWNCDs face a significant risk of developing severe illness if they contract the disease due to physiological changes that come with potential underlying health conditions.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading causes of death and disease worldwide. NCDs are medical diseases that are non-transmittable and have no ability to be infectious among people. However, NCDs are the most common cause of death and disability worldwide, accounting for more than 70 percent of all deaths. Above three–quarters of these deaths occur in developing countries, four out of five die before the age 50.

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The main NCDs include cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, mental health, and Sickle cell disease, and Neurological disorders such as dementia. It is sad to say that more often than not, people who suffer from NCDs suffer more than one disease during their lifetime.

As the second wave of COVID-19 hits Nigeria, there is still time to prevent the worst-case scenarios. The PLWNCDs are calling on the Federal Government to prioritise a national COVID response, especially in NCDs, and take the following urgent actions as supporting and protecting of PLWNCDs is everyone’s business.

They want the government to commit more funding to health insurance to address COVID-19 and its secondary impact, ensuring the flexible, sustainable, and urgently PLWNCDs access care. They said the benefits package of various State Health Insurance Schemes should be broadened to cover more NCDs. At present, the packages cover diagnosis and treatment of a few NCDs - diabetes, sickle cell, and high blood pressure.

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The group said while the Federal Government is allocating domestic stimulus packages as restrictions are put in place due to COVID-19, people living with NCDs should be made a priority in the disbursement of relief materials, palliative, and employment opportunities.

Other demands by the group include: “Lead efforts through the Presidential Task Force (PTF) to create a local coordinating mechanism to direct resources, including a vaccine, where most needed. To ensure that people living with NCDs are made a priority on the list of those to get the vaccines when they are made available, as people living with NCDs have underlying health conditions that cannot tolerate the Coronavirus.

“Government to address the social, economic, commercial and environmental determinants of NCDs and health, which includes implementing bold policy, legislative and regulatory measures, including fiscal measures, to minimize the impact of the main risk factors for NCDs and remove barriers to health services for PLWNCDs

“The release of Equity Grants by the State governments and Basic Healthcare Provision Fund by the Federal in order make Social Health Insurance Schemes to be effective.”

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Meanwhile, according to the research conducted by the NCD Alliance Nigeria, more than 50 per cent of PLWNCDs in Nigeria are unemployed and only 48 per cent of those employed earn above N100, 000. With the cost of medication, healthcare, rent, food, transportation, the quality of life of those living with NCDs is extremely low. This contributes to a lot of untimely deaths that could have been prevented. It is also sad to mention that so many people living with NCDs are unaware that they live with it because of the lack of access to quality health.

Editor-In-Chief and a lead advocate for the PLWNCDs, Timi Edwin, said: “Don’t forget us, as the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hits Nigeria, our support and protection is everyone’s business.”

While it is obvious that a lot of government hospitals are overburdened, understaffed and under-equipped, the PLWNCDs are making a cry to the government to build more hospitals, equip existing hospitals, as well as train personnel of primary health centers across the federation.

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Edwin said, due to the need for support and protection of PLWNCDs for this reason, the NCD Alliance Nigeria formed an arm known as PLWNCDs to serve as a high-level advocacy group aimed at influencing government policies, creating change, and improving the quality of life of those living with NCDs within Nigeria.

Another Lead Champion of PLWNCDs from Enugu State Oti Joseph said the last two, three weeks have seen a very significant increase in the number of cases every day. Lagos, Federal Capital (FCT), and Kaduna are said to have become a recent hotspot, with accounts of people with a number of new infection cases.

“Struggling to get hospital beds and due to the failing medical system of the country, as a group, we appeal for easy and affordable access to medications to manage this condition.

“I urge PLWNCDs to wear masks, avoid large gatherings in big groups outside of bars and restaurants that are providing to-go services, wash their hands and observe social distancing,” he said.

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