Innovative approaches for protecting people living with severe NCDs in extreme poverty during COVID-19

Author: Dr. Neil Gupta, NCD Synergies
June 23, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a double threat of adverse health and socioeconomic consequences for communities around the world.  However, this threat is perhaps most immediate and tragic for people already living with severe and chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in poor communities in low-income countries. 

For young people living with chronic health conditions such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatic heart disease, sickle cell disease, or childhood cancer, there is an immediate and extreme danger of infection with COVID-19, which could rapidly lead to critical outcomes, as well as the interruption of vital health services and medications.  A recent survey by the World Health Organization found that NCD services have already been disrupted in 3 out of 4 countries globally. Families and households in the world’s poorest communities are at immediate risk for further impoverishment, the majority of which are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

In response to this immediate threat, National NCDI Poverty Commissions in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have rapidly developed innovative programs to protect the most vulnerable from these threats.  

Partners In Health / The Zimbabwe NCDI Poverty Commission at a meeting in February 2020.

On July 1, 2020, teams in these six countries are initiating targeted programs to not only support the continuity of essential health services for young people living with these conditions, but develop innovative new approaches to bring those services to beneficiaries amidst the pandemic.  These approaches include:

  • In-depth analyses of demand and supply-side barriers
  • Identification of vulnerable individuals
  • Decentralizing clinical services
  • Shifting point of care to home-based or virtual consultation
  • Facilitating supply chains for essential commodities
  • Developing peer support networks

In addition, these programs will target material needs in the form of protective personal equipment, essential medicines and supplies, nutritional support, and transportation to facilitate prevention against COVID-19 infection and optimize treatment outcomes.

Partners In Health / The Ethiopia NCDI Poverty Commission at the launch of their Report in Addis Ababa, November 2018.

NCD Synergies and the Program in Global NCDs and Social Change at Harvard Medical School is pleased to provide technical and financial support for the innovative efforts from each of these teams and will provide a routine webinar platform for learning and collaboration through the NCDI Poverty Knowledge Exchange.  Experience and lessons learned from these innovative programs will be aggregated and actively disseminated to strengthen global efforts to allow for potential replication and scale-up of successful strategies to protect the world’s most vulnerable individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic.