The Forgotten COVID-19 Vulnerability

As the COVID-19 crisis grows, policymakers may be overlooking a vulnerable population: patients living with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

People with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriatic arthritis and other inflammatory conditions may have compromised immune systems already.  This makes them susceptible to the coronavirus, whose spread has now reached pandemic proportions. Making matters worse, these patients often take therapies, such as steroids or biologics, with the side effect of suppressing their immune system further.  And some fear that lowered immunity could also mean worsened symptoms if they do contract COVID-19.  

In other words, social distancing and protective measures are especially critical for this demographic.

So why does guidance from medical and governmental entities continue to overlook these patients?  “While rheumatology staff are currently advising patients directly if they are in the high risk category, this is not explicitly reinforced by government guidelines across Europe,” the European League Against Rheumatism noted in a public statement.  

The oversight could be dangerous for millions of people throughout Europe.  

The European League Against Rheumatism has called upon “all governments” to address patients whose medication may weaken their immune system.  In the meantime, the organisation has issued COVID-19 guidance of its own for patients with rheumatic musculoskeletal diseases.  The group has also cited the need for workplace protections, a coordinated public health response and uninterrupted access to treatment. 

Challenges related to COVID-19 could compound existing access struggles for people living with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory disease.  These may include stigma, the need for greater physician education on rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases, and barriers to patient-centred care. To learn more, see GAfPA’s “Rheumatoid Arthritis: Access, Policy & Advocacy Goals.”

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