It is common knowledge that people living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease, are more vulnerable to catching a severe form of Covid-19, and dying.
However, there appears to be a correlation between the disruption of treatment services for NCDs and the increasingly severe cases of Covid-19 in Uganda.
In mid-March, when the country went into a total lock-down, the delivery of many essential health services was disrupted. The NCD clinics at national and regional hospitals were closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Over the months, this action has led to hundreds of people missing out on their drugs and routine medical check-ups.
In August, the Ministry of Health issued a circular to health service heads and providers at all levels, offering additional guidance on the continuity of essential health services, with a specific focus on addressing the critical needs for patients with NCDs. Among the guidelines offered was the need to ensure that NCDs screening is fully integrated into the triage.
However, the weekly NCD clinic Nassolo used to attend at Entebbe Regional Referral Hospital to measure her blood pressure and blood sugar free-of-charge is still closed. The hospital is now a Covid-19 treatment center“
she told me not to come to the hospital. She advised me to continue going to a private clinic where I have to pay Shs1, 000 to measure blood pressure and Shs5, 000 to measure blood sugar. I no longer have access to free drugs,” she says.
“In March and April, I was spending Shs51, 000 monthly on drugs. I eventually had to switch to cheaper medicine. Now, I spend Shs39, 400,” the widow reveals.
Since her retirement 10 years ago, Nassolo’s daughter has been paying for her medicine.
Now, with the labor force still reeling from the after-effects of the lockdown, her daughter’s earnings have gone down. Luckily, Nassolo has not missed her medication because her daughter still priorities her medical condition.
Impact of closing NCD clinics
Entebbe General Referral Hospital has a large NCD clinic and before the lockdown, every month, it attends to more than 100 diabetic patients. The clinic also has a ward with a 40-patient capacity.
Mohammed Mubiru Executive director of Entebbe general hospital says the hospital has admitted 63 patients with covid 19, of which 25 patients are on oxygen.
He added that Entebbe general hospital was directed to stop giving health services to other patients with noncommunicable diseases and those patients should try to reach other health centers 2 ,3 and 5 to get health services.
Besides, we now have space challenges, because we have to dedicate large areas to just a few people for isolation. This is impacting on the space where we would have operated to admit general patients with NCDs or other diseases,” he says.
Dr Gerald Mutungi, the commissioner for NCD prevention and control at the Ministry of Health,he earlier said, the lack of attention to the NCD burden will have dire consequences.
“We are likely to see more severe cases of Covid-19 due to uncontrolled NCDs because some people have spent months without taking their medication.
The situation will be bad because until recently, we have been discouraging them from going to health facilities because they are likely to be exposed to the coronavirus,” he says.