Chronic diseases during a pandemic: how can health systems become more resilient during crisis

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Wireko Joseph Agyei, a 3rd – year Medical Laboratory Science student at the University of Energy and Natural Resources, in Sunyani, Ghana. He is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the world into a major crisis and exposed the ability of health systems to withstand the shock of pandemics. As a result, health facilities and healthcare professionals have been over stretched. There are therefore demands for more resources and innovative ways to make health systems more resilient and responsive.

Chronic diseases seem to be on the back burner despite statistics showing that chronic and other non communicable diseases (NCD) are responsible for several COVID-19 deaths and deserve more resources and action plans. In fact, chronic and NCD such as diabetes, hypertension, heart and renal diseases are the key drivers of COVID-19 fatalities. More attention should be paid to such diseases amidst a pandemic.

Access to high quality, appropriate and universal health care (UHC) remains a mirage for many people living with chronic diseases, especially the vulnerable in poor countries with poor health care systems. The pandemic has further aggravated the conditions of such people and impacted negatively on the already fragile health systems in poor countries. Even well developed and resourced health systems are reeling under the negative impact of the pandemic.

It is therefore very important to make health systems become more resilient, especially during and after the pandemic. Some of the ways to achieve these goals include: making available more needed resources by countries and international organizations to improve health systems; providing incentives to healthcare professionals to make them more resilient and dedicated to duty; training more health care professionals to meet the demands of the time, among others.

Medical students have a role to play in efforts to make health systems more resilient to effectively handle chronic diseases during the pandemic, by supporting the process through advocacy, to achieve the desired objectives.
Their advocacy should ensure that policy makers globally are made aware that accessibility and affordability of health care should go hand in hand if any country is to achieve UHC, particularly for people with chronic diseases. They should also advocate for and support reforms to make chronic diseases and other NCD features prominently on the agenda of governments, civil society and international organizations such as the World Health Organization.
Furthermore, medical students should advocate for bringing health care closer to people living with chronic diseases, improve the quality of healthcare and also make it affordable to all. People diagnosed with chronic diseases should be given support if they can not afford treatment.

Importantly, they should advocate for the need to ensure that no one’s health is left behind during the pandemic.

In striving towards achieving more resilient health systems, it is paramount for policy makers globally to invest in health systems for all,especially prioritizing chronic diseases, if more lives are to be saved during and beyond the pandemic.

About the author

Wireko Joseph Agyei is a 3rd – year Medical Laboratory Science student at the University of Energy and Natural Resources, in Sunyani, Ghana. He is a member of the European Climate Pact. He is also a member of the Open Dialogue On Climate change.

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