With “Long Covid” affecting many who recover from the virus, how will health systems cope with the demand for treatment? Could medical travel destinations provide a solution? How about a salt mine in Poland?
The COVID-19 epidemic has brought chaos to countries’ health systems and economies and has resulted in an estimated 3.7 million deaths worldwide.
With the onset of vaccine programmes in developed countries, we’ve seen a slowing of the spread of the virus and a resulting decline in hospital admissions and deaths. But even if the vaccine programme delivers results worldwide, many countries are left with a long term problem – those patients who have survived COVID-19, often with an extended recovery period in hospital, but who now face the health challenges of “Long Covid”.
“Long Covid” or post-COVID-19 syndrome may embrace many symptoms – extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, problems with memory and concentration, insomnia, heart palpitations and more. In the USA, sufferers are described as post-COVID “long haulers.” According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, 1.1 million people in the UK were reporting Long Covid symptoms, as of March 2021. A study by the University of Leicester of just over 1,000 people who had needed treatment in hospital for COVID-19 found that the majority (seven in 10) had not fully recovered five months after they were discharged. Data from the UK’s COVID Symptom Study app suggests that older people, women, and those who had five or more symptoms in the first week of becoming ill with COVID-19 were more likely to develop Long Covid. According to Harvard Medical School, by late February, 2021, almost 30 million Americans were confirmed to have been infected by the virus. “Probably many more were never diagnosed. Early studies indicate that one in ten people with COVID-19 may develop Long Covid that lasts at least a year.”
A long-term problem needing a solution
Health systems in many countries have been overwhelmed by COVID-19. Elective surgery has been cancelled, waiting lists have rocketed, and hospital and healthcare staff have been overwhelmed and exhausted. When we finally overcome the virus, health systems will be fighting to play catch up and return to normality. But the battle will be long fought and Long Covid will add more stress to the overstretched resources.
So, does medical travel have a role in meeting the challenge of Long Covid?
There are clearly healthcare providers and destinations that might see an opportunity in developing a programme to manage and treat the Long Covid patient, particularly those that offer expertise in chronic respiratory disease. So far though, I haven’t seen any initiatives within medical tourism that specifically target Long Covid.
Treat Long Covid… in a salt mine?
Some years back, I visited one of the most unusual healthcare facilities in my international travels – the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine Health Resort. Situated 135 metres underground in an abandoned salt mine in Poland, this health resort provides a comprehensive programme for the treatment of chronic respiratory diseases. The combination of the exceptional bacteriological purity of the air, the absence of allergens and pollutants, a constant low temperature (13–14.5°C), high relative humidity and a supporting team of physicians, specialists and therapists achieve impressive results in treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, pneumonia and bronchial asthma.
Could the treatment of Long Covid be added to their list of successes?
Could you provide a solution?
I’ve highlighted just one example of a healthcare facility that might provide a destination for Long Covid patients. But there will be many other health and wellness resorts for whom long Covid presents a medical travel opportunity. Time to get your thinking caps on and start work on your Long Covid strategy.