The Ghana Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance (GhNCDA) has called on government to provide undivided health service delivery to People Living with Non-Communicable Diseases (PLWNCDs) in the era of the COVID-19.It said the introduction of measures such as social distancing, mandatory face mask, and the closure of outpatient services among others had resulted in the disruption of routine non-communicable disease (NCD) and other chronic service delivery.
The call was made in a release issued by GhNCDA on its recent survey conducted on the challenges faced by PLWNCDs and its implication on healthcare services and the attainment of Ghana’s Universal Health Coverage by 2030.
It said the majority of people living with NCDs had disruptions in their healthcare services due to focus on COVID-19 cases leaving them to their fate, adding that; “Meanwhile NCDs are the leading cause of deaths in the world today, killing 41 million people each year, yet governments and global leaders have paid little attention to it.”
The release said globally, it was reported that people living with NCDs experienced a multitude of challenges, however in the Ghanaian context, little information existed on NCDs and COVID-19, and the experiences of people living with NCDs amidst the global pandemic.
“There have however been concerns from the government that the majority of the COVID-19 cases and mortalities recorded in Ghana are as a result of NCDs.”
The release said GhNCDA as part of efforts in contributing to national NCDs response and ensuring people living with NCDs needs and priorities were enhanced, conducted a rapid qualitative survey aimed at understanding the challenges the people living with NCDs in this COVID-19 era in Ghana faced.
It said the evidence-based survey also drew recommendations to inform the national COVID-19 response in the context of the country’s multiple disease burdens, particularly NCDs, other chronic diseases, and the need for health system strengthening.
The release said the data was collected from 127 persons living with stroke, diabetes, hypertension, sickle cell, chronic heart disease, asthma, cancer, and breast cancer from Greater Accra, Ashanti, Eastern, and Northern regions.
“The study revealed that a significant number of persons living with NCDs were hugely affected in different ways following the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the three weeks lockdown. The numerous challenges faced by people living with NCDs on daily basis attest to a fall in achieving the Universal Health Coverage, by 2030.
During the survey, Mr Essel Francis Cudjoe, a person living with diabetes said; “I run out of medication and had to rely on a co-tenant to share his diabetes drugs because I could not access the prescribed drugs from the community pharmacy as they had none.”
“I have experienced disruptions in accessing my medications due to the high cost charged by the pharmacy which was above my financial strength. I had to stay home due to fear and anxiety and my compromised immune system.
“We can no longer hide the fact that NCDs is a national crisis and the needs of persons living with diverse non-communicable diseases can no longer be neglected," Mr Christopher Agbega, a person living with motor sensory neuropathy said.
The findings revealed that PLWNCDs were given less attention, when they visit the hospitals for their regular reviews and the majority reported were told not to return to the hospital since the focus was on COVID-19 cases.
Some of the key challenges expressed by people living with NCDs included; NCD medication often prescribed by doctors not covered by the NHIS, fear of visiting healthcare centres, due to fear of contracting the COVID-19, difficulties in accessing prescribed medications that were out of stock in most healthcare facilities, lack of access to physiotherapy services during COVID-19 in most health centres and inability to undergo scheduled surgeries as doctors refused to perform surgeries due to COVID-19.
The release recommended that the government should as part of treatment, care and support absorb medical bills of persons living with NCDs under the NHIS, psychologists should be stationed at all health centres to provide counseling to PLWNCDs to prevent an escalation of their condition, intensify education of COVID-19 and NCDs to reduce stigma, neglect, and discrimination, and physiotherapy centres should be accessible with ease at all health centres to cater for the needs of stroke patients.
It said as government devised strategies and plans towards responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, it should consider the findings of the evidence-based document in the light of the following.
Thus, the high rates of NCDs undiagnosed cases and poor levels of control for NCDs, especially diabetes, hypertension, cancers, among others in the country; the National Policy on the management and control of NCD; the National Universal Health Coverage road map to deliver evidence-based primary healthcare for people with NCDs; National COVID-19 response strategy to address the pandemic; National Health Insurance Scheme to cover the cost of NCDs; and government to consider developing standard NCD guidelines for all healthcare centres.