New study recommends prioritizing diabetes care for global post-pandemic recovery

Diabetes_Story_880X330.jpgThe global study recommends creating equity in diabetes services to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Prabhjot Sohal

Health experts planning a global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic are faced with two options: Plan A: Overhaul the system; or, Plan B: Keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

Western’s Dr. Stewart B. Harris adds another dimension to this debate and insists the answer is clear.

“When two pandemics – COVID-19 and diabetes – collide, the recovery entails an overhaul of the health system,” said Harris, a professor of family medicine at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “We have witnessed the co-occurrence of an acute infectious disease pandemic and a chronic disease pandemic. The impact of this is no less than that of a natural disaster.”

A new global study, co-authored by Harris, studied the impact of COVID-19 on diabetes care by drawing parallels to the impact of natural disasters on chronic diseases and populations at risk. 

2022_12_06---Stewart-Harris-Headshot---2022.jpgDr. Stewart B. Harris, professor, department of family medicine, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

Published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, the study recommends targeted interventions for vulnerable groups, expansion of universal health coverage, and consideration to legislate the regulation of harmful foods, such as energy-dense foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, to reduce and manage the double impact of COVID-19 and diabetes.

“At the individual level or the community level, acute infections, such as COVID-19, and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, are inexorably related. The response to them needs to be coordinated similarly,” the study recommends.

The study draws lessons from previous natural disasters to manage and reduce the direct and indirect impact of COVID-19 on diabetes care. Natural disasters, including the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, were considered for the study. The impact of the current Ukraine-Russia conflict on people with diabetes and routine diabetes management was also studied.

Based on this work, one of the key recommendations of the study is to stratify the population based on socioeconomic and other risk factors and then prioritize those with the greatest need.

“People with diabetes were among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher rates of hospitalization, intensive care admissions, and mortality were seen in this group,” said Harris, emphasizing the need for compassion and understanding of social determinants of health. “Inequity in diabetes care already pre-existed and the pandemic made it worse. Many people with chronic diseases delayed seeking medical attention or were not able to get it.”

The study also highlights the importance of immunization against COVID-19 to prevent the burden on the health-care system and to reduce the impact of long COVID.

The study was a collaboration between researchers from the U.K., U.S., Hong Kong, Italy, Colombia, Ghana, China and India.