By Orville Williams
Residents in Antigua and Barbuda who are afflicted with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are being encouraged to make lifestyle changes to help combat the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their health.
NCDs – such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes – claim the lives of millions of people each year, accounting for a significant percentage of all deaths globally, and international reports are that those figures have increased since the start of the pandemic.
Nurse Valerie Williams, Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Coordinator in the Health Ministry, reminded those dealing with such illnesses that they have the best vantage point to assess their health conditions, and advised them to ‘go back to the basics’ in caring for themselves.
“Look at the key components of a healthy lifestyle; one of the things that we encourage is physical activity. You don’t have to run a marathon, but you can go walking, play a sport, get out in the garden or go to the beach and have a swim.
“[Additionally], make sure that you’re getting good sleep at nights, so that your body can recover as best as possible and you can get the energy needed to do these other things.
“We also encourage the drinking of water, because we know that sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with childhood obesity, and obese children become obese adults. So, consume a lot of fresh water and reduce or completely cut out sugar-sweetened beverages,” she urged.
Nurse Williams also explained just how the pandemic has affected many persons dealing with NCDs – by disrupting access to health services, reducing their food quality, crippling their finances and causing unwanted stress.
These issues, she said, combined to erase many of the gains these persons would have previously made and, in some cases, worsened their original conditions.
“Some persons who have NCDs, they were dependent on going to their healthcare providers for certain services and so many times, the clinics, hospital and doctors’ offices had to [restrict services].
“We don’t [yet] have the statistics, but things that we would expect to have happened include [persons who could not go to these facilities consistently, falling off with monitoring and treating their illnesses],” she said.
According to Nurse Williams, the economic ramifications of the pandemic have been among the most impactful, with many persons having lost their jobs and the ability to pay for treatment and/or medicine.
“You would have had persons who made gains in getting their blood sugar, for instance, under control with medication, but due to the pandemic – maybe persons lost their jobs – their food quality became an issue and they were not able to eat as prescribed, to continue their progress,” she explained.
“[Other persons] might have just been out there not getting any care at all [and] these are some of the persons who would have ended up going to the hospital with elevated blood sugar levels.
“Some of them might have ended up – having already been struggling with diabetes, for example – being diagnosed with hypertension etc.”
The mental burden of the pandemic is another big issue that many persons would have been struck with. That, Nurse Williams said, may have caused them to exercise less, consume more junk food and alcohol, and sleep considerably less due to insomnia.
The majority of these issues, she reiterated, are connected and require a holistic approach in resolving them and getting back on track.
The main types of NCDs, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), are cardiovascular diseases (such as heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma), and diabetes.
Cardiovascular diseases account for most NCD deaths – 17.9 million people annually – followed by cancers (9.3 million), respiratory diseases (4.1 million), and diabetes (1.5 million).