Dealing with Post-COVID-19 complications
As new cases of the coronavirus resurface in France and other parts of Europe with an incredible death toll, recent scientific studies detailing newly found incidents of deadly complications and performance impairment in Long COVID survivors have appeared in the public space.
Long COVID is a condition wherein people continue to experience COVID-19 symptoms for longer than usual after initially contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Unpalatable as the result of these studies may be, the response should be one of care, caution, more research and hope. Rather than resulting in panic and despair, the news of this finding should prepare people to manage these complications and enable them to live healthy and fulfilled lives.
Following published studies reportedly carried out by medical experts from the United Kingdom and the United States of America, it was posited that COVID-19 infections could trigger lingering and severe symptoms of ‘Long COVID’ even in vaccinated people and that having had COVID-19 may negatively impact performance at work. Whilst a new study from the University of Waterloo in the UK showed that individuals who had contracted COVID-19 reported significantly more cognitive failures at work, and that cognitive failure was associated with decreased self-ratings of job performance, as well as increased intentions to voluntarily leave one’s current job, a study at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System suggested that vaccination alone may not be enough to stop breakthrough COVID-19 infections and prevent long COVID.
In analyzing these findings, Dr. Iorhen Akase, head of the Infectious Disease Unit and COVID 19 response team at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), with his team, explained that COVID-19 is not a one-off illness, since it could occur again and again. He was quoted as saying: “If somebody has COVID-19 now, the COVID can potentially affect some of his organ system and some tissues in his body: It can affect the lungs that aid breathing, it can affect the heart that pumps blood to the body, it might affect the muscles thereby causing weakness. So, on the long term, though the person has become apparently well, he or she is not back to his functioning capacity as at that time.”
What is the value of all this information? The value of the research findings is to provide an informed position on post-COVID health management. It is to let people know that although one might have had COVID-19 and taken to vaccines and looks healthy, it does mean that one has bounced back to a pre-COVID state of health; rather it means that consequent upon the COVID treatment, there are complications that result in other health issues. Thus, COVID has its toll on a person’s health even after successful treatment and vaccine administration.
The implications of these findings should be of interest to policy-makers in government, human resources managers and personnel departments of both private and public organisations, just as the COVID-19 pandemic supposedly jolted government to action. It could be recalled that shortly after the lockdown, the Federal Government came up with a post-COVID economic recovery plan. In order to avert a drastic decline in economic growth, the government announced a stimulus package as part of its post-COVID-19 economic sustainability plan. It also promised a stimulus spending package of N2.3 trillion (about $5.9 billion) with the aim of keeping economic contraction to minus 0.59 per cent. The government also earmarked ambitious projects to aid this plan.
However, given the vagueness of some of these ambitious projects and the problem of implementation, this plan was a ruse since nothing appears to support commitment to the plan. From indications, this administration does not have the capacity or political will to see them through because it is hamstrung by the same maladies that have stymied earlier countless initiatives, namely ministerial corruption and mismanagement.
The current revelation about post-COVID complications should be another avenue to re-strategise proper healthcare management. Firstly, it calls for a comprehensive plan for preventing and managing post-COVID-19 complications and supporting patients and families experiencing delayed morbidity and disability as a result. In other words, health protection and policies should extend beyond the present.
Given the foreseeable decline in the performance of COVID-19 survivors, employers of labour are expected to be more understanding of the effect that this debilitation will have on production. In this regard, healthcare plans and health insurance schemes for employees should be established so that facilities for healthcare should be expanded and made more accessible.
Secondly, there is a need for concerned agencies in both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Information to work in synergy to enlighten the public about these complications. Public health professionals in liaison with health communicators and the media should make patients aware of the potential long-term complications of COVID-19, including suspected and asymptomatic cases, and encourage them to seek medical and mental health care for any conditions they may develop.
The findings are also instructive to labour relations officers who handle welfare matters of employees and liaise between them and their employers. In this regard, employment support and retraining programmes may be organised to help patients with new disabilities identify alternative employment opportunities that accommodate their needs. It is equally important to insurance and pension companies that manage health schemes for individuals and corporate organisations.
It is unfortunate that responses from Nigeria’s medical experts had to come after studies carried out in other places were made public by the local media. Had this not happened, would Nigerians have had knowledge of the complications discovered by the findings? There is evidently a need for more research and education to better understand, characterise, and recognise the post-COVID syndrome in diverse settings and populations. This is a wake-up call to research institutes and academies in this country to be futuristic and anticipate possible implications of events such as this.
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