Africans living with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension and diabetes are more likely to suffer severe cases of COVID-19 and eventually die, according to the Africa office of the World Health Organization (WHO).

In a statement on Thursday, WHO said in South Africa, 61% of COVID-19 patients in hospitals had hypertension and 52% had diabetes. In Kenya, 50% of COVID-19 patients with NCDs lost their lives, while the Democratic Republic of Congo saw 85% of its COVID-19 patients with NCDs succumbing to the disease.

“Millions of Africans living with noncommunicable diseases are at greater risk of complications or dying from COVID-19,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa.

“So it is very concerning to find that just when people with hypertension and other chronic conditions most need support, many are being left out in the cold,” she added.

Hypertension management has been disrupted in 59% of African Region countries, while diabetic complications management has been disrupted in 56% of the countries, WHO noted.

“This is a concern because disruptions in NCD treatment can result in death on their own, and because people living with NCDs, like diabetes and hypertension, are at greater risk of severe illness and death when infected with COVID-19,” she added.

Even prior to the current pandemic, NCDs were a major health challenge, impacting a growing number of Africans. In 2015, NCDs killed 3.1 million people in the African region up from 2.4 million in 2010, according to the WHO.

“Protecting people from infection, as part of COVID-19 prevention, and ensuring NCD prevention and care as part of essential services, can reduce the progression of cases to severe disease and death,” Moeti said at a virtual news conference on COVID-19 and NCDs on Thursday.

The total number of people who have contracted the virus in the continent has surpassed 1.32 million, while recoveries topped 1 million, according to the latest data from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Africa. The death toll from the coronavirus in Africa reached 31,902.

Southern Africa is the most affected in terms of both caseload and death toll, with 642,431 infections.

This week is the Global Week for Action on Noncommunicable Diseases, because the burden of cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases is rising in Africa and also globally, yet NCDs remain the most underfunded public health issue, Moeti said.

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