By Adekunle Yusuf
Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the COVID-19 pandemic has had significant negative impact on the health of people battling with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer, there is still insufficient evidence on the number of Nigerians who are at risk.
“Evidence globally shows that those living with NCDs are particularly vulnerable. The full extent of this may be unknown, due to the many cases of NCDs that go undiagnosed. The prevention and control of NCDs therefore has a crucial role in the COVID-19 response.
If the COVID-19 response is not adapted to encompass prevention and management of NCD risks, we will fail many people at a time when their vulnerability is heightened,” Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, the WHO Regional Director for Europe, said.
This has led to the partnership between Novartis, a global pharmaceutical company, and WellNewMe, a Lagos-based health technology company that provides services to improve population health and reduce costs/losses associated with chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes type II, hypertension and mental health, to run a year-long pilot in determining risk factors amongst adult Nigerians.
Recognising that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are driven by exposure to risk factors related to human behaviour and genetics, WellNewMe designed an algorithm-based health risk assessment platform that encompasses psychological, physical and social domains, which are known to influence NCD risk and prognosis in cases of established disease.
Being a global leader in the cardiovascular healthcare space, Novartis has also mobilised the setup of these cardiovascular risk assessment stations at various pharmacies across the country with the aim of reaching a thousand patients.
The platform incorporates the ability for healthcare providers to standardise their approach to cardiovascular disease management by using an algorithmic process and harnessing relevant data to ensure a set of potential outputs, which result in better outcomes for the patient.
The results of the pilot, which revealed that a total of 1,900 people were enrolled for the pilot, and 1,269 of them completed the assessment as part of the pilot, were released last month.
Participants were from across all the states, and the Federal Capital Territory, with the majority of them coming from Lagos (30 per cent), Oyo (8 per cent), Abuja FCT (Eight per cent), Ogun (Seven per cent) and Rivers (Five per cent).
Results showed that three quarters of those who completed the assessment were found to have an increased risk of developing a chronic disease, with men more at risk than women.
It also found that risk increases as the age increases, while those aged 50 and above have increased risk.
The results also showed that women (43 per cent) seem more at risk than men (36 per cent) for developing hypertension, while the risk increases as the age of the pilot enrolee increased.
With diabetes, it was found that almost three quarters of those assessed had an increased risk of having diabetes with 10 per cent having a high risk; while men are more at risk than women.
The diabetes risk also increases as the age of the pilot enrolee increases. Some of the other interesting anecdote from the pilot revealed that men were four times more likely to be at risk for developing cardiac disease, and in Rivers, 85 per cent of the adults assessed had an increase risk for developing chronic disease.
According to co-founder of WellNewMe and author of the pilot report, Dr. Obi Igbokwe, the report does lend importance to considerations by the health authorities when designing the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, that they need to factor in NCDs as well.
“As patients with chronic diseases are at greater risk of the coronavirus; that in itself presents an extra burden on our already struggling health services across the country.
It is also of great importance, that even when the pandemic has passed, we will still have to deal with the burden of tackling these chronic diseases which by all accounts are here to stay,” he said.