NCD predominant contributor to severe COVID-19 outcomes: Health

Persons living with non communicable disease were most vulnerable in all the waves of COVID-19 in Fiji, developing severe outcomes of the virus which Fiji’s Permanent Secretary for Health Dr James Fong says can be avoided if such persons adhere to medical advice and treatment and people in general take up healthy diets and exercise regularly.

Dr Fong said since the first wave a predominant contributor to severe outcomes in the country has been NCD-related comorbidities such as heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, obesity and hypertension.

The ministry did not provide specifics on deaths with or deaths from COVID stemming from NCD complications, but says that in 2020, of the total deaths in Fiji, 5,700 were NCD related. In 2016, NCD deaths accounted for nearly 85 per cent of total deaths, at 5,500 and in 2017, NCD deaths numbered around 5000 or nearly 71 per cent of total deaths.

Since the country’s first coronavirus case in 2020, the number of COVID-19 deaths, including those whose deaths were attributed to other causes, stands at 1,512, equating to 2.5 per cent of total coronavirus cases.

“Together with ensuring optimal treatment compliance of those with NCDs, the promotion of a healthy diet and exercise needs to be an integral part of as part of building resilience together,” Dr Fong said, “The total burden of NCDs on the Fijian society –– due to lost hours of work and healthcare needs –– is estimated to be $406 million annually, according to the Economic Burden Report Fiji, 2018.”

To this end, the ministry welcomes the announcement by the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission to increase the price of sugar sold by the Fiji Sugar Corporation by 90cents (VEP) a kilo.

“Given the severe negative health effects of overconsuming sugar, sugar-sweetened beverages, and sugar-filled processed foods, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services hopes that the increase in sugar prices will curb sugar consumption by members of the public and promote healthier alternatives, such as reducing the consumption of sugars and use of natural honey.”

Employer and community leaders are also urged to help mainstream support systems for vulnerable persons by creating a list of vulnerable persons, facilitating support to secure good access to medical care, ensuring oversight so that if they develop flu-like symptoms they test early and provide a supportive environment to ensure that the sick will feel encouraged to seek treatment and not try to wait things out. This will allow the ministry, at least in the short term, direct service towards the protection of the vulnerable in the community.

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