Out of the Limelight: Supporting Millions of Non-COVID Patients in Their Journey Back to Healthcare
After more than a year of living with a worldwide pandemic, a new question arises: how can we get patients who haven’t been able to access healthcare to re-engage, so we don’t face a new crisis?
“I am terrified of getting sick and having an asthma attack that requires me to go to hospital,” says Olivia Fulton, who suffers from severe respiratory problems. “I am terrified of catching coronavirus so while I am self-isolating, I feel relatively safe.”
In an article published on Life Effects, patient contributor Olivia revealed that the safety of self-isolation posed a problem for her. She might have been better protected from COVID-19 but she couldn’t go to the pharmacy to pick up medicines, get regular blood tests, nor attend the other appointments she relied on, from neurological physiotherapy, to allergy and immunology clinics.
“What I have come to learn is that we, as a group of chronically ill patients, need to do what we can to protect ourselves,” Olivia says.
She made a lot of changes to her routine but eventually found ways to engage with her healthcare providers.
But many others have not been willing or able to do this. As a result of the pandemic a vast number of people around the world – either through fear of the potential consequences, simple self-sacrifice, or lack of access – stopped visiting their doctor or disengaged from healthcare.
Now, as parts of the world begin to envision a post-pandemic future, there are serious questions around how many will return for routine care, diagnostic testing and treatment – and what the ramifications might be for healthcare systems.
This is a particular concern for those with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Prior to the pandemic, some three quarters of all deaths worldwide were due to NCDs. 01
The impact of the pandemic on these patients’ access to care has been acute. The World Health Organization found that the COVID-19 pandemic has ‘severely’ disrupted the delivery of services to prevent and treat NCDs in almost 80% of countries surveyed – 122 out of 150 countries. 02
“While it might feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel with regards to the pandemic, the reality is that over the past year many people stopped going to the doctor for regular treatment and care,” says Richard Daniell, Head of Europe Commercial at Teva. “This is, for example, visible when it comes to cancer patients, whose treatment and diagnostics have fallen far behind with dramatic consequences.”
Cancer diagnoses fell around 40% in 2020 03, a statistic highlighted in the European Cancer Patient Coalition’s joint letter on COVID-19 and cancer, which was signed and supported by Teva.
This is one of a number of initiatives Teva has been involved in to help raise awareness of the pandemic side effects on people’s health and to ensure people around the world get access to the medicines they need. No one should be left behind.
On a mission
Access is a core part of Teva’s mission. The company supplies medicines to around 200 million people every day and our teams have moved mountains over the last year to ensure the firm’s supply chain remained largely uninterrupted and there was an adequate inventory of products across Teva’s network.
Examples of Teva employees going above and beyond the call of duty are many; even an earthquake didn’t stop the team in Croatia from manufacturing critical medicines, with production lines repaired and reactivated in record time.
“Over the last year there has been a Herculean effort to ensure the uninterrupted supply of our medicines to patients,” says Byron Austin, Director, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). “We’ve got to keep doing that, but we’re also really doubling down on maximizing access to medicines going forward. We’ll keep doing this because it is part of Teva’s mission.”
The firm has pledged to significantly expand its medicine donation program, with the aim of rolling out eight new programs by 2025 to get more medicines to vulnerable populations across Africa, Latin America, Europe, USA, and Israel.
This comes on top of $571M worth of medicines (317M units) donated to patients in need in 2020, more than twice the amount given out in 2019.
“These new access programs are a signal to the global health community that we are committed to contributing our products and know-how to the success of health systems and communities, regardless of their availability of resources,” Byron adds. “We will continue to work with partners on the ground to serve patients. Indeed, it is what we do as a company every day.”
Getting the message out
Getting healthcare systems and non-COVID patients to re-engage with one another offers a different kind of access challenge: that of a healthcare backlog, which may have an impact on patients’ health long beyond COVID.
Teva is working with healthcare providers, governments, patients associations and other stakeholders to ensure patients are clear that COVID-19 treatment must not come at the expense of feeling they cannot or should not talk to their doctors.
Alongside the European Cancer Patient Coalition joint letter, we recently supported the Active Citizenship Network’s European Patients’ Rights Day conference and their manifesto, and we created the “being healthy is more than being COVID-free” campaign, an initiative designed to encourage patients to visit their doctors again.
Resources range from advice on how to resume contact with your doctor, to preparing for a visit to the doctor, and lots of advice from patients themselves on our Life Effects platform.
Don’t be left stranded
Sarah Alexander is one patient who re-engaged with healthcare despite being “very reluctant and scared”.
Speaking to Life Effects, patient contributor Sarah says: “For a few weeks my chest was very sore as I have a paraesophageal hernia. I was uncertain and reluctant to get in touch with the doctor’s office, as I knew the demand would be high. Because I was anxious and scared, I put off calling them for about two weeks before giving in.”
When Sarah did get in touch with her doctor, she discovered her caution was unnecessary.
“I realized I wouldn’t be left stranded with whatever illness I had, but a big part of me still didn’t want to add any pressure on an already pressurized healthcare system,” she adds.
Nonetheless, she pressed on and was glad she did.
“I understand it’s a really scary time, but take precautions to look after your health and access the services if you need help,” Sarah says.
It is crucial this message gets out to patients and that healthcare providers respond if we are to avoid a new healthcare crisis, as diseases and conditions that have been upstaged by COVID-19 may come back with a vengeance.
Find out more
- Find out more about our Access Programme in our latest ESG Progress Report
- Get more advice and tips from patients on accessing healthcare during the pandemic at LifeEffects.Teva
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De Vincentiis L, Carr RA, Mariani MP, et al Cancer diagnostic rates during the 2020 ‘lockdown’, due to COVID-19 pandemic, compared with the 2018–2019: an audit study from cellular pathology Journal of Clinical Pathology 19 June 2020 doi: 10.1136/jclinpath-2020-206833 (https://jcp.bmj.com/content/early/2020/06/19/jclinpath-2020-206833)
NPS-ALL-NP-00358 MAY 2021