National, 17th May 2022: The shadow of lasting illness could be with us for decades once the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, the convenor of a University of Otago symposium on Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome (PACS) is warning.
Dr Rob Griffiths, from the University of Otago, Wellington, says with at least one in five people expected to experience symptoms more than three months after being infected with COVID-19, government agencies should urgently develop plans to provide ongoing support.
The online symposium, Long COVID: Journeying together through the fog, which is being held on Zoom on Wednesday 25 May from 9.30am to 4pm, will bring together a range of experts who will share the latest information on the condition. Anyone can register for free at https://events.otago.ac.nz/longcovid2022/.
The symposium is being organised by Te Whare Whakamātūtū, the Rehabilitation Teaching and Research Unit in the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington, in collaboration with Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington and AUT’s Centre for Person Centred Research.
“If the acute phase of COVID-19 can be compared to a tsunami of healthcare need, Long COVID will be a subsequent flood of Noah-like proportions,” Dr Griffiths says.
“The addition of Long COVID to New Zealand’s existing chronic disease burden is likely to be significant, and we don’t yet know how large the problem will be; there are so many unknowns.”
Dr Griffiths says while some people with Long COVID could be supported to learn to manage the condition themselves, many will need to work with their community and primary care providers. Others may suffer more serious symptoms, such as cardiac complications, and need high-level specialist care.
“A whole range of services will be needed, from supporting people to self-manage the condition, to providing adequate and accessible resources for navigating primary and specialist care. We urgently need to look at how you bring all those services together, not just health services, but also social support and disability services. Particular attention is needed for those most likely to experience inequity of access, experience and outcomes in health, social and disability services, such as Māori, Pasifika and rural people.
“The Ministry of Health is currently reviewing its framework for services for people with Long COVID, and this symposium offers them a range of perspectives and voices that can inform its review. The Māori Health Authority and Health New Zealand will share their thoughts on moving forward at the close of the symposium.”
Dr Griffiths says the United States is setting up Post-COVID outpatient centres all over the country and New Zealand needs to put a similar effort into establishing services to provide care, education and support for those with Long COVID.
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“We’ve been fortunate that most New Zealanders were fully vaxxed and boosted when they acquired Omicron, which will reduce the percentage of people who get severe disease and Long COVID, but the sheer numbers of people who have had acute COVID-19 mean the numbers of people who get Long COVID will be significant.”
The online symposium will host short, sharp presentations from national and international experts from a wide range of disciplines, including physiotherapy, primary health care, psychology and occupational therapy, and will hear about the experience of living with Long COVID from advocate Jenene Crossan.
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Dr Griffiths says the organisers strongly believe that ensuring people with Long COVID are listened to and believed is a crucial aspect of their recovery.
“The symposium will be a timely opportunity to share our collective expertise and gain more clarity about early identification, initial support and rehabilitation service needs of people living with Long COVID.”
Speakers include: Long COVID expert Professor Trish Greenhalgh from the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, UK; Dr Martin Chadwick, physiotherapist and Chief Allied Health Professions Officer at the Ministry of Health; Jenene Crossan, Long COVID lived experience expert and advocate; Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero; Professor Nicola Kayes, Director of the Centre for Person Centred Research and Professor of Rehabilitation in the AUT School of Clinical Sciences; Professor Michael Baker, epidemiologist and public health physician from the University of Otago, Wellington; Dr Paul Skirrow, clinical psychologist and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington; Drs Lynne Russell, Marianna Churchward and Mona Jeffreys, leaders of the major Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington study on the impact of COVID-19 in Aotearoa; and researcher and indigenous and human rights advocate Tina Ngata.
Dr Griffiths says the symposium is free to attend and will be of interest to clinicians, health system planners, the general public and people recovering after a COVID-19 infection.
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