Regional survey reveals extensive disruptions to NCD care in the Americas during COVID-19 pandemic

27 Mar 2023
Person receiving medical care

Cancer screening and management of diabetes and hypertension among main services impacted.

Washington D.C. 27 March 2023 (PAHO) – Extensive disruptions in the diagnosis and management of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Americas during the COVID-19 pandemic had a “significant adverse impact on the region” warns a new study from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

The study, What is the NCD service capacity and disruptions due to COVID-19? Results from the WHO non-communicable disease country capacity survey in the Americas region, published last month in the British Medical Journal revealed “significant and sustained disruptions,” affecting all countries of the Region from 2019 to 2021, regardless of level of investment in healthcare or NCD burden.

“People with NCDs require timely diagnosis, continuous treatment and access to essential medicines, as well as ongoing monitoring of their conditions,” Silvana Luciani, Chief of Noncommunicable Diseases at PAHO and one of the authors of the study, said. “Yet the study shows that many countries were unable to meet these demands over the past three years.”

While 81% of the 35 countries surveyed identified NCDs services as part of the government’s core set of essential health services to be maintained during the pandemic, only 34% reported functioning outpatient services for NCDs, and over 90% reported disruptions in the provision of essential primary care services, including cancer screening and the management of diabetes and hypertension.

A quarter of all countries also reported stock-outs of diagnostic tools, as well as essential medicines and technologies for the treatment and management of NCDs.

To mitigate some of these disruptions, 67% of countries replaced in-person consultations with telemedicine, and others implemented home-based care, triage and prioritization of care based on severity of condition.

“While more data is certainly needed, the results of this study are concerning,” said Luciani. “Around 240 million people currently live with a chronic condition in the Americas. Access to diagnosis and treatment services for NCDs are essential to managing these conditions and preventing premature death.”

PAHO recommends integrating NCDs into universal health coverage and access, with a focus on ensuring affordable, quality care for NCD prevention and treatment as part of primary health care and empowering people living with NCDs to manage their conditions. In addition, NCDs should be considered as part of national emergency preparedness plans to ensure continuity of essential NCD services, even during health emergencies and natural disasters.

PAHO continues to provide support to countries of the Americas to maintain essential services. The Organization has also worked to mitigate some of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic by publishing guidelines to assist with triaging patients, telemedicine, multi-month prescribing, and the reorganization of oncology services.