On Sunday, May 22, 2022, the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) held a webinar on Long Covid: Its Manifestations, Identification & Management. It was organized by the MAJ’s Pandemic Response Task Force and was held in partnership with the Association of General Practitioners of Jamaica and the Caribbean College of Family Physicians, Jamaica. It was aimed at updating physicians on the effects of Long Covid on major organ systems.
There were eight presentations, which covered cardiovascular, respiratory, neurology, endocrinology, rheumatology, nephrology, psychiatry and gastroenterology and illustrated how varied the manifestations of Long Covid may be. The presentations were given by Jamaican medical experts and drew on both information based on what is being seen in other countries and on the experiences of the doctors here in Jamaica, with local case studies being given. The discussion of the local experience is invaluable.
Reminders were given that information on Long Covid is based on what is currently known and being seen, and that it is being updated on an ongoing basis, as further studies are done and observations are made. But what was repeatedly said and shown is that a percentage of people who contract Covid-19 experience long-term symptoms and conditions after the acute phase of the infection has passed. Each of the eight presenters set out some of the long term effects being seen on the major organ system they were focusing on. As one presenter said, this is not the flu. And MAJ President, Dr Brian James tweeted, “…very sobering! COVID is not innocuous.”
A question raised was whether the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) is prepared (or preparing) for the impact on the health system that Long Covid is likely to have.
It is absolutely essential for medical practitioners to have this increased awareness and information about Long Covid. That goes without saying. Perhaps these days a routine question that all patients seeing a doctor need to be asked is whether they have had Covid or symptoms that could have been Covid.
But having watched the webinar, I came away even more convinced than before that the wider public urgently needs information about Long Covid. There are people who have had Covid-19 who may not be fully aware that some of the health problems they are experiencing may be as a result of that infection. Families may have to adjust to a family member needing ongoing care and support that they didn’t need before. Children in school may have increased attention problems or brain fog. Workers may have ongoing fatigue which affects their ability to carry out duties as before. Etc.
The MOHW has a lead role in providing this kind of public education about Long Covid, a role which it has not fulfilled so far. Organizations like the MAJ will obviously have to continue carrying out their own mandates. And perhaps communities, institutions, organizations and groups will need to organize smaller meetings and opportunities for their members to get information and to have questions answered.
Our government may want to pretend that the pandemic is over. It may want everything to go back to “normal” or to some semblance of “normal”. The old normal already had its problems with the provision of health care. The new normal is one that includes Long Covid, whether we want it to or not.