With one in 10 people still feeling ill 12 weeks after having COVID-19, authorities must do more to support them, a UN-backed policy brief issued on Thursday argues.
The document summarizes what is known so far about “long COVID” and how countries are addressing the condition, whose troubling symptoms include severe fatigue and increased damage to the heart, lungs and brain.
The policy brief was published by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Europe and the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.
Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s Regional Director, said long COVID is an extra cause for concern amid the pandemic, which has already caused immense suffering.
“It’s important that patients reporting with symptoms of long COVID are included as part of the COVID-19 response to mitigate some of the longer-term health impacts of the pandemic”, he said.
Long COVID is not fully understood, but available data indicate that roughly a quarter of people suffer from symptoms four to five weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus, and about one in 10 still experiences symptoms after 12 weeks.
Patients, who include medical professionals, struggle to be taken seriously. They report feeling stigmatized and unable to get a diagnosis, receiving “disjointed” care, while also facing problems in accessing health and disability benefits.
The policy brief highlights areas for action, including through developing “new care pathways”, creating appropriate services, and tackling wider consequences such as employment rights, sick pay policies and access to disability benefits.
Patient registers and other surveillance measures should be implemented, and research into post-COVID conditions must be conducted in collaboration with patients and care providers.
“Long COVID has demonstrated the importance of involving patients in research”, said Dr. Selina Rajan, lead author of the policy brief.
“However, much remains to be understood about the long-term, multisystem consequences of COVID-19 infections in children and adults, and the interventions required to treat them.”