A family physician is concerned that as the country continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic not enough attention is being paid towards preventative care for persons suffering from non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
And Dr Joseph Herbert is cautioning that the effects could be felt by the healthcare system long after the pandemic is gone.
Dr Herbert, a member of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners’ (BAMP) COVID-19 Task Force and a part-time lecturer in Family Medicine at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, said the pandemic had put a significant strain on the island’s healthcare system leading to some services being put on the back-burner.
“We think about the numbers that are being reported on the dashboard, the numbers of people being infected and dying from COVID-19, but it’s important to recognize that this pandemic and the impact that it puts on the healthcare system and straining the healthcare system by having less doctors available to do the normal tasks of looking after people with emergencies and NCDs means it’s harder for people to get care for the conditions that we had previous to COVID.
“In addition to that we have unprecedented financial stressors and psychological stressors that mean that the lifestyle issues that lead to NCDs are exacerbated,” Dr Herbert pointed out.
“Anecdotally what we are seeing in the clinic is that people with that level of stress are having a more severe or more common psychological distress. We see that people are finding it harder to maintain healthy lifestyles and therefore having issues like gaining weight and not sleeping as well, and these things all have an impact.
“And then there is the issue of the impact on the healthcare system that people’s appointments are being postponed, their surgeries are being postponed, patients are sometimes scared to seek care because what if they are exposed to COVID-19 by going in a waiting room. And so, we have to think of it in basically two main ways; one in that people are not able to access care in the same way pre-pandemic and that means that particularly for urgent and emergent situations that they are not as easily getting hold of that care and the healthcare system under strain means that our specialists are diluted. They are not all in a place where they need to be and in the long-term the inability to control your chronic diseases and to maintain healthy lifestyles is making it such that we expect less control of chronic diseases and prevention is not being done as well means that we expect to see, over the coming years, an increase in the consequence of those things,” he added.
Dr Herbert said Government needed to be prepared to deal with increased cases of NCDs in the future.
“In terms of medium to long-term investments that we at UWI think we need in terms of fighting the waves of NCDs that are going to follow the COVID-19 pandemic, we see a need to invest heavily in preventative care at the public health level and you will see a lot of initiatives around things like childhood obesity, healthy environments in schools…
“Public health measures are proven to work, we want to stop talking about them and make sure we actually put the money there and do it,” he noted. (RB)