The Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) has urged all citizens and residents in Qatar to take every measure to keep the elderly population away and safe from the Coronavirus (Covid-19), especially "as we approach Eid al-Fitr".Last updated: May 16 2020 10:32 PM
Global evidence has shown that while Covid-19 can affect people of all ages and health status, the elderly are much more likely to experience severe symptoms and are therefore more at risk from becoming seriously ill if they contract the illness. In response to this evidence, HMC, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC), has established a comprehensive plan to help protect this vulnerable group of society.
The plan includes public education and awareness campaign to inform elderly citizens and their families about adhering to important guidelines for their safety.
Dr Hanadi al-Hamad, National Lead for Healthy Ageing in Qatar and Medical Director of Rumailah Hospital and Qatar Rehabilitation Institute, explained that with increasing age, people's natural immune system becomes less able to cope with the symptoms caused by the virus.
"The Covid-19 symptoms can include high fever, persistent dry cough, aches and pains and extreme fatigue, and these can be challenging for anyone, but often more so as we get older and our resilience to deal with the symptoms of infection weakens. The problems are exacerbated when people have additional chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart and kidney disease ," said Dr al-Hamad.
The pandemic has necessitated a change in the way many healthcare services are delivered to all people, and especially older citizens. This includes limiting face-to-face exposure to reduce the risk of infection. The establishment of telemedicine facilities for a variety of specialties has proven very successful. Over the past few months over 1000 virtual consultations have been delivered to people over 60, from medical consultation to providing physiotherapy advice.
Recognising the importance of people with chronic conditions to continue to take their medication, the government has supported the programme of medicine deliveries to people at home. Over 14,500 medication orders have been dispensed by HMC and PHCC pharmacy teams to ensure patients have the medicines they need.
The recently established telephone outreach service for the elderly has provided another important channel to connect with older patients. Staffed by members from the Geriatric and Long-term Care Department, the team proactively calls those aged 60 years and above to offer advice and support on how to stay safe during this period.
"We recognise that loneliness from social isolation can sometimes be as difficult to bear as any illness, especially for vulnerable older people; we have therefore set up a call center staffed with geriatricians and nurses. To date we have made around 20,000 calls , ranging from dispensing medical advice, arranging a special home visit to medication prescription. And sometimes our teams merely provide psychosocial support- just a call to check up on an individual to see how they are feeling can provide a powerful boost to their overall wellbeing," added Dr al-Hamad.
While virtual consultation has become increasingly important, there are times when a physical consultation is essential and Home Health Care service teams from HMC and PHCC continue to make house calls in urgent cases. Over 12,000 visits have been conducted over the past few months to provide necessary services such as administering insulin injections, dressing wounds or checking vital signs
A specialised Elderly Day Care Unit has recently been established in Rumailah Hospital, designed to provide non-life-threatening or emergency care in a more age-friendly environment where the teams can abide by safety regulation concerning distancing.
"In order to reduce the danger of having a relatively minor condition or issue deteriorate and become more serious, the Elderly Day Care Unit delivers important yet routine medical interventions in order to manage them before they become acute. The added benefit of this service is to reduce the risk or need of an elderly person having to visit the Emergency Department if they do not need to. To date nearly 100 patients have used this facility."
Until better treatment options are found for Covid-19 and the infection risks decrease, the need remains for observing physical distancing to protect the more vulnerable groups in society. As has been seen in countries around the world, if these safety measures are disregarded or eased too soon, the rise in infections are all too evident.
"We fully understand that the situation with the lockdown measures are a real burden on families, especially during Ramadan. And we appreciate that people want to get together with family and friends especially during the upcoming Eid. But for now we need the support from the whole community to stay home to stay safe. This is the best way in which we can show the love we have for the elders in our family," added Dr Hanadi.