PAHO: Regional health systems must consider offering long-term care for ‘long Covid’

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By Elesha George

[email protected]

Countries in the region need to reorganise their health services to account for ‘long Covid’, a regional health official has said. Long Covid is a term used to describe the effects of Covid-19 that continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness.

 “We are trying to see if these long Covid effects are going to stay with the patient for a long time or for all their lives in some cases; then we need to reorganise health services to provide care at community level for these patients,” Dr Cecilia Acuna, PAHO advisor on health systems and services, said.

There are four main signs of long Covid which include fatigue, cognitive impairment (inability to memorise data), respiratory damage and general impairments such as cardiac problems.

Dr Acuna said long Covid should also be taken into consideration by social security schemes.

“We will need to include those problems in the social security plans. Many workers for instance who have been infected with Covid-19 cannot keep working in their former jobs because of these problems,” she explained.

She said it is an important issue that requires policy decisions by ministers of health and labour, as well as planning and social protection.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases would also need to begin to incorporate long Covid into its list of diseases in order for countries to create these policies.

Dr Acuna was speaking during a webinar that addressed Omicron as a variant of concern (VOC), its transmissibility, severity and its impact on social mobility.

The meeting discussed the factors contributing to the overall increase of Covid cases, the factors driving transmission of Omicron and Delta, as well as to advise countries to revise and reassess their national plans to combat the virus.

Dr Yitades Gebre, PAHO/WHO representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, shared that Omicron is highly transmissible but whether it causes more or less severe disease compared to other variants, or how effective it is in escaping immunity, is still unknown.

Total number of hospitalisations was higher in the Delta wave than with Omicron although the newest variant is increasing hospitalisation. However, it is too early to say how severe the bulk of the hospitalised cases will ultimately be.

Delta is still the world’s most prevalent variant, and only four countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have yet identified Omicron – namely, Trinidad and Tobago, Bermuda, Cuba and Argentina.

Meanwhile, Dr Prabhjot Singh, PAHO advisor for health surveillance, disease prevention and control, is projecting an increase in cases and deaths in the Eastern Caribbean by the end of February. The projections are based on data provided by individual countries.

As a result, PAHO is projecting 489 new hospitalisations, 205 ICU admissions and eight new deaths in Antigua and Barbuda during that period.

It is the third highest estimate after St Lucia with 429 hospitalisations, 180 ICU admissions and 14 projected deaths, and Barbados with 374 hospitalisations, 157 ICU admissions and 13 possible deaths.

St Vincent and the Grenadines is also estimated to have 309 hospitalisations, 130 ICU admissions and 10 projected deaths in the first two months of the new year.

Health practitioners are also concerned that a number of countries in the region including Grenada, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines may not reach the 40 percent vaccination target by the end of the year.

“What is also important is that some of these countries may not even meet the June 2022 target of 70 percent coverage if we continue in the same way,” he remarked.

There is currently around 61 percent vaccination coverage in Antigua and Barbuda, the second highest coverage after Saint Barthelemy with 66 percent.

Countries like Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and St Lucia would have to increase their daily vaccination rate more than five times the current rate in Grenada, four times in St Lucia and seven times in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

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