A lack of medical attention threatens the health of thousands of hypertension patients globally, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly half the adult population is afflicted. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the most common causes of premature death or disability, and treatment for the non-communicable disease is facing rollbacks as medical professionals focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even before COVID-19, the majority of the region’s medical resources were dedicated to the communicable diseases that plague the community, like HIV, tuberculosis, cholera, and measles. The limited number of medical workers and the shortage of resources mean that treatment for any disease is uncertain, even in the best of times, and hypertension in particular was not considered a priority.
Now, the pandemic has made it even more difficult for healthcare facilities to allocate resources for non-communicable diseases like hypertension. For example, Kenya closed down many of the clinics in the region that treated non-communicable diseases. Limited clinics and curfew hours prevent hypertension patients from scheduling regular check-ups, which are crucial to catching complications before they become life-threatening.
Hypertension can lead to strokes, heart attacks, and other fatal heart diseases. Rising numbers of COVID-19 cases also put hypertension patients at higher risk. As a sensitive population, hypertension patients may develop more dangerous complications when COVID-19 interacts with their pre-existing condition.
A variety of steps can be taken to protect the health of hypertension patients during this global health crisis. Clinics who implement online care options, like mobile phone check-ups, can continue to provide treatment remotely. Increased access to emergency care could also help patients whose symptoms flare up in lockdown or during curfew hours.
The financial insecurity exacerbated by COVID-19 can make it difficult for patients to get the medication they need. Extended prescriptions and enhanced supply chains can help reduce both symptoms and patient-provider interactions.
Stuck inside with fewer opportunities for regular exercise or doctor appointments, people with hypertension are among the most vulnerable populations. Careful planning and management practices can ensure that developing countries can continue to provide needed healthcare to hypertension patients, both during and after COVID-19.