Governments and health authorities across Europe have been urged to improve the reporting and treatment of long Covid, after new analysis suggested at least 17 million people in the region have developed the condition.
The latest modelling, which was carried out on behalf of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) European region, also found that women in Europe have been twice as likely as men to develop long Covid, and that women have higher rates of hospitalisation.
“Governments and health partners must collaborate to find solutions based on research and evidence”
The WHO’s regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, said the data highlighted “the urgent need for more analysis, more investment, more support and more solidarity with those who experience this condition”.
Overarchingly, the modelling concluded that an estimated 17 million people met the WHO criteria of a new case of long Covid – with symptoms lasting for at least three months – across the 53 WHO Europe region countries during 2020 and 2021.
The WHO lists common long Covid symptoms as fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive dysfunction, but it says there may be a range of other symptoms, which generally have an impact on everyday functioning.
It also says that symptoms can continue from the initial Covid-19 illness, or develop later, and that long Covid can affect a person’s daily activities, including paid work or household chores.
The WHO in Europe has now joined with Long Covid Europe, a network of European patient organisations, to call on governments and health authorities across the continent to give greater focus to post-Covid-19 conditions.
The organisations are demanding: better reporting of long Covid and a greater emphasis into research into the condition; evidence-based rehabilitation programmes, and health services that are able to recognise the condition and are equipped to treat it.
The modelling was carried out by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Washington DC.
Dr Kluge said: “Millions of people in our region, straddling Europe and Central Asia, are suffering debilitating symptoms many months after their initial Covid-19 infection.
“They cannot continue to suffer in silence. Governments and health partners must collaborate to find solutions based on research and evidence.”
Dr Alison Twycross, nursing academic and chair of Long Covid Nurses and Midwives UK, said: “When I reflect on the two and a half years of my long Covid journey, I have had to fight my own corner most of the time.”
She highlighted examples of this to Nursing Times and said she got her appointment at a local long Covid clinic by writing to her MP and that she was only referred to tertiary care for tests on her heart and lungs “by begging my GP” after persuading them that the local clinic was “only focusing on rehab”.
In addition, she said: “When I was given my blood results over the phone and told I had developed diabetes, I was simply told to lose weight and go on a low sugar diet.
“I referred myself to the practice nurse who specialises in this area and sought help from a friend who is a diabetic nurse specialist to ensure I was doing the right things.
“This needs to stop and people with long Covid need support to navigate the healthcare system.”
Dr Twycross, who advocates on behalf of NHS staff with long Covid, suggested this was “potentially a role that clinical nurse specialists could do alongside a multi-disciplinary team”.
The Department of Health and Social Care recognised the “debilitating impacts” of long Covid on people’s physical and mental health and highlighted a more than £50m investment to help scientists increase understanding around the long-term effects of Covid-19.
As part of its broader plan to tackle long Covid, the DHSC has also committed £224m to support people with ongoing symptoms.