COVID-19 a double blow for chronic disease patients

October 23, 2020

There has never been a more dangerous time than the COVID-19 pandemic for people with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer, respiratory problems or cardiovascular conditions, new UNSW Sydney research has found.

Among the adverse impacts of the pandemic for people with NCDs, the study found they are more vulnerable to catching and dying from COVID-19, while their exposure to NCD risk factors - such as substance abuse, social isolation and unhealthy diets - has increased during the pandemic.

The researchers also found COVID-19 disrupted essential public health services which people with NCDs rely on to manage their conditions.

The study, published in Frontiers in Public Health recently, reviewed the literature on the synergistic impact of COVID-19 on people with NCDs in low and middle-income countries such as Brazil, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Nigeria.

The paper, which analysed almost 50 studies, was a collaboration between UNSW and public health researchers in Nepal, Bangladesh and India.

Lead author Uday Yadav, PhD candidate under Scientia Professor Mark Harris of UNSW Medicine, said the interaction between NCDs and COVID-19 was important to study because global data showed COVID-19-related deaths were disproportionally high among people with NCDs - as the UNSW researchers confirmed.

"This illustrates the negative effect of the COVID-19 'syndemic' - also known as a 'synergistic epidemic' - a term coined by medical anthropologist Merrill Singer in the 1990s to describe the relationship between HIV/AIDS, substance abuse and violence," Mr Yadav said.

"We applied this term to describe the interrelationship between COVID-19 and the various biological and socio-ecological factors behind NCDs.

"So, people are familiar with COVID-19 as a pandemic, but we analysed it through a syndemic lens in order to determine the impact of both COVID-19 and future pandemics on people with NCDs."

Mr Yadav said the COVID-19 syndemic would persist, just as NCDs affected people in the long-term.

"NCDs are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioural factors and there is no quick fix, such as a vaccine or cure," he said.

"So, it's no surprise we found that NCD patients' exposure to NCD risk factors has increased amid the pandemic, and they are more vulnerable to catching COVID-19 because of the syndemic interaction between biological and socio-ecological factors.

"The evidence we analysed also showed there was poor self-management of NCDs at a community level and COVID-19 has disrupted essential public health services which people with NCDs rely on."

Tackling NCDs in the COVID-19 era

Mr Yadav said the researchers' findings led them to recommend a series of strategies for healthcare stakeholders - such as decision-makers, policymakers and frontline health workers - to better manage people with NCDs in light of the COVID-19 syndemic.

"Healthcare systems - such as Australia's - do have some of these strategies in place, but they need improvement," he said.

Highlights from the recommended strategies include:Why healthcare must focus on prevention

Mr Yadav said high-income countries could also learn from the researchers' findings.

"COVID-19 has been a major threat to people with NCDs in developed countries - for example, new statistics from Britain show that in 2020, high numbers of people in England and Wales died from NCDs at home after shunning the healthcare system because of the pandemic," he said.

"In Australia, COVID-19 will increase inequality and poses a risk to some high and middle-income earners, but it's a double threat to others such as Indigenous, rural, CALD and refugee communities, as well as people with severe mental illness - as reflected in our paper."

Mr Yadav said in Australia in 2018, the most recent data available, 89 per cent of deaths were associated with 10 chronic diseases.

"The Australian healthcare system needs a bigger focus on preventive healthcare, to improve outcomes for patients with NCDs and prevent more people from developing these diseases amid the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

Mr Yadav said putting serious preventive healthcare investment on the backburner could lead to individual, societal and economic upheaval in the long-term.

"If this trend continues, Australia will struggle to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.4, which is to reduce premature mortality from NCDs by a third by 2030 - relative to 2015 levels and to promote mental health and wellbeing," he said.

"Investment in prevention today will help save healthcare costs in the long-term, help reduce the incidence of NCDs and enhance our resilience against future pandemics."
-end-
Find the study in Frontiers in Public Health: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2020.00508

University of New South Wales

Related Substance Abuse Articles from Brightsurf:

College students with disabilities at greater risk for substance abuse
College students with physical and cognitive disabilities use illicit drugs more, and have a higher prevalence of drug use disorder, than their non-disabled peers, according to a Rutgers study.

An AI algorithm to help identify homeless youth at risk of substance abuse
While many programs and initiatives have been implemented to address the prevalence of substance abuse among homeless youth in the United States, they don't always include data-driven insights about environmental and psychological factors that could contribute to an individual's likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.

How Tweets may influence substance abuse in youth
In a new study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing), researchers characterized the content of 23 million drug-related tweets by youths to identify their beliefs and behaviors related to drug use and better understand the potential mechanisms driving substance use behavior.

Time in host country -- a risk factor for substance abuse in migrants
Refugees and other migrants who move to Sweden are initially less likely to be diagnosed with alcohol or drug addiction than the native population but over time their rates of substance abuse begin to mirror that of the Swedish born population.

Children of incarcerated parents have more substance abuse, anxiety
Children of incarcerated parents are six times more likely to develop a substance use disorder in adulthood and nearly twice as likely to have diagnosable anxiety compared to children whose parents were not incarcerated, according to new research from the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.

Reducing care needs of teens with substance-abuse disorders
Screenings, interventions, and referrals can help adolescent teens overcome substance abuse in the short-term.

Pain and substance abuse interact in a vicious cycle
Pain and substance use interact in a vicious cycle that can ultimately worsen and maintain both chronic pain and addiction, according to a research team including faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Gap in substance abuse data could have long-term implications, study finds
A policy of redacting Medicare claims that included diagnosis or procedure codes related to substance abuse was in effect from 2013-2017, just as the Affordable Care Act and the opioid epidemic were drastically changing the healthcare landscape.

AI tool promotes positive peer groups to tackle substance abuse
When it comes to fighting substance abuse, research suggests the company you keep can make the difference between recovery and relapse.

Investigators highlight potential of exercise in addressing substance abuse in teens
Exercise has numerous, well-documented health benefits. Could it also play a role in preventing and reducing substance misuse and abuse in adolescents?

Read More: Substance Abuse News and Substance Abuse Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.