The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the daily routine of millions of people in the region and made the disease more difficult to control. Fewer people attended health facilities for follow-up appointments due to stay-at-home measures, fears of infection with the novel coronavirus and disruptions to health services. A recent PAHO/WHO survey documented that more than half of countries in the Americas reported that services for managing diabetes and its complications were disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, with limited access to essential medicines and technologies.
"Many people may not be getting their diabetes medication or may not have access to the care they need to manage their disease, which is very concerning as those living with diabetes are at greater risk of developing severe forms of COVID-19. ", said Anselm Hennis, director of PAHO's Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.
PAHO urged countries to ensure diabetes care is fully available to patients during the pandemic. This can mean offering care outside traditional environments, using digital health solutions, disseminating information and bringing care closer to the population through community health agents. Insulin must also remain accessible to those who need it.
The Organization also called on healthcare professionals – including nurses – to ensure that people with diabetes understand their risk and have access to quality healthcare services, information and tools to manage their disease. PAHO also urged people living with the disease to manage their illness by staying active, eating healthy, and monitoring their condition, especially during the pandemic.
“While many may be afraid to visit a clinic, now is not the time to skip diabetes monitoring visits,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. “People can still get the care they need and their prescriptions, but they should remember to practice physical distancing, wash their hands often, and wear masks,” she noted.
Slowing the progression of diabetes
Overweight and obesity, which affect more than 60% of adults in the region, are strongly associated with diabetes, a chronic, progressive disease characterized by high blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes - responsible for the majority of global cases and largely due to excessive body weight, unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle - is on the rise across the world. Since 1980, the number of people with type 2 diabetes in the region has tripled.
Diabetes complications can be avoided through better treatment and quality of care. The disease can be prevented through fiscal and health policies, legislation, environmental changes and public awareness to prevent risk factors including obesity, unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles.
Examples of these interventions are taxing sugary drinks, banning advertising of ultra-processed foods to children, front-labeling foods to inform consumers about high salt, sugar and fat, and promoting safe and accessible recreational spaces to encourage active living. A healthy diet and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day can reduce the likelihood of children and teens becoming overweight.
As part of the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, PAHO supports countries in the region in their efforts to reduce diabetes-related complications and premature mortality. The Organization also helps countries buy medicines to treat the disease at affordable prices, reducing the costs associated with treatment.