National outreach program includes Elderly Telephone Reassurance Service launched on 18 April 2020
COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Global evidence indicates that older adults, especially those with chronic health conditions, are at higher risk of getting severely ill if they contract the virus. Qatar has been a strategic partner in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) global efforts to develop guidelines and frameworks for interventions that also focus on at risk population groups, such as older persons.
Dr. Hanadi Al Hamad, the National Lead for Healthy Aging in Qatar, Medical Director of Rumailah Hospital and Qatar Rehabilitation Institute, is one of international experts contributing to the WHO Advisory for Dementia. As a Senior Consultant Geriatrician, she is keenly aware of the challenges that older people with health problems face generally and especially during the current situation that restricts social interaction. While the current precautionary measures are there to reduce the risk of the virus spreading among our older adults; but the potential for social isolation can also be difficult for them.
“Older people are a vulnerable group as their immunity tends to be lower than younger people, especially if they have other health problems, such as heart or kidney disease, or are being treated for cancer or other illnesses. A less strong immune system means their bodies are less able to fight off a viral infection. As there is no vaccine for this virus, the emphasis worldwide is largely on adopting precautionary measures for prevention and slowing down the transmission of the illness,” said Dr Al Hamad.
“It is important for our older population to maintain physical distancing measures outlined by the Government for their protection as well as others, and for this to continue during Ramadan and possibly Eid. It is equally important that this is not misinterpreted as social isolation as that could have detrimental effect on our elderly’s physical and mental well-being. Social isolation and limited access to COVID-19 related information or even access to misinformation through various social media channels can compound the challenge of keeping them safe and reducing the need to visit a hospital.
We have therefore developed a comprehensive plan to reach out to the elderly to give them information they may not have seen or understood, and to help them get the right care they need. Whether checking if they have enough medication or reminding them about the importance of social distancing, or just to ask how they are feeling; these important call are designed to reassure them that their healthcare team is there for them.”
An elderly telephone reassurance service has been launched with staff from the Geriatric and Long-term Care Department at Hamad Medical Corporation contacting people who are 60 years and older. An additional aim of this initiative is to identify any potential healthcare risks early on and arrange appropriate medical care. This approach aims to reduce the danger of the healthcare issue becoming more acute and possibly requiring hospitalization.
Dr Al Hamad recently teamed up with WHO experts to develop an Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for Long-Term Care Facilities, within the context of COVID-19 outbreak. Dr Al Hamad is also jointly venturing with the WHO to lay out guidance for older people and COVID-19 with a focus on older people and their households, health and social care workers and the broader community. These efforts are expected to create a positive and long-lasting impact in the care of elderly services.
Dr Al Hamad’s efforts and achievement as the driving force behind elderly care services in the State of Qatar were a key factor in the WHO’s invitation for her to become a member of their Global Network on Long Term Care. This group is tasked with developing norms and guidelines necessary for the implementation of the WHO Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health, especially in areas for long-term care.
As the National Lead for Healthy Ageing and the Focal point for Older Adults in Qatar, Dr Al Hamad remains committed to the well-being of the elderly population while the global community is endeavouring to weather this stormy period. By constantly liaising with national and international healthcare experts, Dr Al Hamad is proactively reaching out to address the challenges faced in elderly healthcare and social needs worldwide.