Impact of COVID-19 on noncommunicable diseases care in SEA

Dr Gampo Dorji, of WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia, speaks on how the pandemic has affected delivery of services on noncommunicable diseases, and how these challenges can be overcome.

Speaker: Dr Gampo Dorji
Technical Officer, Noncommunicable Diseases, World Health Organization Regional Office for South-East Asia (SEARO)


The WHO South-East Asia (SEA) Region has 11 Member States – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste. The regional target is to reduce premature mortality rates due to noncommunicable diseases (NCD) by 25% by 2025.

To manage a detection and treatment gap in NCDs, WHO has the Package of Essential Noncommunicable Disease Interventions (WHO PEN), a set of cost-effective interventions that can enable early detection and management of NCDs. Several countries in SEA have implemented programmes from the PEN initiative.

The SEARO envisions a three-way partnership, between the respective Ministries of Health, provincial and district health authorities and health/medical academic institutions, for capacity building in NCD care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted NCD care services, as public transport lockdowns hindered patient access to medical facilities, or patients do not attend their visits due to fears about COVID-19. Ways to overcome these disruptions include leveraging on telemedicine, or redirecting patients to alternate care facilities that they are able to access.

In building the care system back better, WHO is advocating a people-centred NCD approach, such as through using technology in conducting recall reminders, or smoother referral coordination.

Dr Dorji also highlighted several potential areas of innovations in the sector, such as collaborations between private and public facilities on NCDs, and scalable healthcare digital tools for patient monitoring.

Key Takeaways:

  1. NCD services has been disrupted due to COVID-19. It is critical for patients of these chronic conditions to have regular access to monitoring and drugs.
  2. At the moment, countries have used alternative methods such as telemedicine to overcome the care delivery challenges caused by COVID-19.
  3. This is  an opportunity for countries to ‘build back better’, to leverage on technology and set up a people-centred NCD approach.
  4. There is also room for public-private collaboration in raising the overall quality of care for NCDs.

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