At least 17 million people across Europe suffered from long Covid in the first two years of the pandemic, research has shown, with health leaders urging governments across the continent to take the condition seriously.
The modelling was conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in the United States for the World Health Organisation’s Regional Office for Europe (WHO/Europe).
It indicated a 307% increase in new long Covid cases identified between 2020 and 2021, and suggested females were twice as likely as males to experience the condition.
WHO in Europe has urged countries, governments, and health partners to take the condition seriously by urgently investing in research, recovery, and rehabilitation.
Dr Hans Henri P Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, speaking from the 72nd WHO Regional Committee for Europe in Tel Aviv, Israel, highlighted that the ’chronic and debilitating’ condition is impacting ‘many health workers who risked their lives on the frontline of the pandemic’.
Speaking of both health workers and the ‘millions of others’ who need support, he continued: ‘We are hearing stories of so many individual tragedies, of people in financial crisis, facing relationship problems, losing their jobs, and falling into depression.
‘This data highlights the urgent need for more analysis, more investment, more support, and more solidarity with those who experience this condition.’
Dr Christopher Murray, director of the IHME, said: ‘Knowing how many people are affected and for how long is important for health systems and government agencies to develop rehabilitative and support services. It’s also paramount for employers to understand so that special accommodations can be made to help those facing limitations.’
WHO/Europe this week announced an official partnership with Long Covid Europe. The two organisations have together identified three goals and called on governments and health authorities to focus attention on long Covid and people living with it through greater:
- Recognition and knowledge sharing, with all services equipped to recognise the condition.
- Research and reporting through data gathering and reporting of cases, and well-coordinated research into the prevalence, causes, and costs of long Covid.
- Rehabilitation that is based on evidence and effectiveness and is safe for both patients and carers.
‘Leaving no one behind is more than just a tagline, and to leave people struggling with the consequences of their Covid-19 infections while others move on with their lives is not an option,’ added Dr Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, WHO/Europe’s director of country health policies and systems.
While most people who develop Covid-19 fully recover, around 10-20% develop a variety of mid- and long-term symptoms like fatigue, breathlessness, and cognitive dysfunction such as confusion, forgetfulness, or a lack of mental focus and clarity.
It can also directly and indirectly affect mental health. These symptoms might persist or develop after recovery and can come and go or relapse over time.
This comes after the withdrawal of Covid sick pay in England and Scotland this summer was heavily criticised by nurses, with the RCN branding the decision ‘neglectful’.
Support for nurses with long Covid is dependent on employers and some report being forced to return to work early or having to leave the profession altogether.
Maria Esslinger-Raven, an NHS midwife who suffers from long Covid, started a petition calling for the government to reintroduce Covid sick pay for NHS professionals, which has reached over 159,000 signatures.
As of April 2021, at least 122,000 (or 3.6%) of healthcare workers were found to be experiencing long Covid, according to self-reported data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the highest rate among any occupational group.
Incidence among the general population has continued to soar – with 2 million people in the UK now living with the condition, according to data from June this year.
RCN members voted earlier this year for the organisation to campaign to tackle the ‘immoral’ treatment of some nursing staff with long Covid who are facing a ‘postcode lottery’.