Highlighting the effect of COVID-19 on healthcare, a survey revealed that over half (54%) of survey respondents in Kuwait said they would avoid visiting a clinic or hospital for general health needs during the coronavirus global pandemic, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by Gilead Sciences Middle East.

A main reason given was the fear of catching the coronavirus infection has increased reluctance in people to visit a clinic for general ailments. Consequently, sufferers of chronic diseases and other health issues will not prioritize their treatment, and diseases that require laboratory testing, such as HCV, can go undiagnosed which is a cause for concern.

Research shows that 71 million people are infected with Hepatitis C worldwide with approximately 21% of them (15 million) in the Middle East and North Africa region – this is the most affected region globally. The rate of patients in Kuwait is low (0.8% of Kuwaiti nationals and 5.4% of expatriates), however, there is a lack of awareness about the virus among the general public, with only 22% of survey respondents admitting they know details about the virus. 90% said they were unaware of the symptoms, 14% know that it can be asymptomatic and only 24% understood the virus infection can lead to serious health complications.

Just 17% are aware of the cycle of transmission of the virus (mother to child – possibly through shared razors, toothbrushes, etc.…) and 15% know how it can be prevented.

HCV is a serious liver disease that can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting for a few weeks to a serious lifelong illness and is a major cause of liver cancer. The World Health Organization has endeavored to eliminate HCV by 2030, however, there is rising fears that a one year delay in HCV elimination efforts can lead to 72,000 excess deaths from the virus.

When questioned about the use of tele-health services, 60% responded that they would prefer remotely consulting with healthcare professionals for health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a result of the evolving global pandemic, we have seen the acceleration of digitization across many sectors, including the healthcare industry. The introduction of new solutions such as the tele-health concept will play a key role in ensuring better patient access. Simplified micro-elimination models also need to be considered to enhance step by step HCV elimination efforts,” said Dr Al Fadhli.

Micro-elimination has been highlighted as an effective strategy to pursue national elimination of HCV by targeting one population segment at a time through multi-stakeholder initiatives. In fact, at an individual level, the survey highlights that the majority of survey respondents in Kuwait (86%) are more likely to quickly resort to medical care if there were healthcare online options specifically for their health needs.

To support the WHO’s HCV elimination target, as well as the efforts by the Ministry of Health of the State of Kuwait and the Kuwait Hepatology Club (KHC), Gilead Sciences Middle East hosts an annual conference for leading medical professionals. This year’s event was hosted virtually in October 2020 and focused on swiftly ending viral hepatitis. Gilead Sciences is driven by a mission to eliminate all risks to public health.

Through its medical education programs, local, regional and international medical professionals and experts are armed with the tools needed to tackle any issue in the future.

● The effect of COVID-19 on broader aspects of healthcare can impact patients of chronic diseases and asymptomatic viral infections such as the hepatitis C virus (HCV)

● HCV – there is a lack of awareness about HCV in Kuwait, with only 22% of survey respondents highlighting their awareness of the

● Micro-elimination – 86% of respondents are more likely to healthcare online if it was applicable specifically to their health needs

● Tele-health – 60% would prefer remotely consulting healthcare professionals for health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The global pandemic has seen people become anxious about visiting a clinic out of the fear of contracting COVID-19. This is concerning as general ailments, chronic diseases and other health issues will take less of a priority, and diseases such as HCV that require laboratory testing to identify can go undiagnosed. Similarly, delayed elimination efforts due to COVID-19 will negatively impact the consequences of HCV, so it is crucial for key stakeholders to remain proactive in this domain to achieve national and global elimination targets,” commented Dr Samir Al Awadhi, President of the Emirates Gastroenterology and Hepatology society.




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