The burden of long Covid “is real and it is significant” and should become a “clear priority” for every health authority, the World Health Organisation’s Europe director has said.
Dr Hans Kluge told a press briefing on Tuesday that while are no precise figures for how many people suffer ongoing symptoms after a bout of coronavirus, it is thought around one in 10 remain unwell after 12 weeks.
He explained that as the Covid-19 crisis has evolved, professionals and patients “have mapped a path in the dark” and stories of people with ongoing “debilitating symptoms” have emerged.
“Regrettably, some were met with disbelief, or lack of understanding,” said Dr Kluge, adding that disability following coronavirus infection can linger for months “with severe social, economic, health and occupational consequences”.
He added: “We need to listen and we need to understand. The sufferers of post-Covid conditions need to be heard if we are to understand the long-term consequences and recovery from Covid-19.”
Dr Kluge said the issue is already a “clear priority” for WHO and called for it become a priority for every health authority.
“We do not have all the answers. We do not yet know what percentage of patients have these longer-term effects, but we are learning fast,” said WHO’s Europe director.
“I am calling upon EU countries and institutions in the European region to come together as part of an integrated research agenda using harmonised data collection tools, and study protocols.
“These will be key to maximise the impact of treatment and improve long-term outcomes for patients.
“As a next step, I will be convening the chief medical officers of all 53 countries in the European region to set out a regional strategy to meet this goal.”
Last week a total of 65 MPs and peers signed a letter, backed by the British Medical Association Council, calling on the Prime Minister to compensate key workers suffering from long Covid.
The letter also called for long Covid to be recognised as an occupational disease.
Richard Roels, from the UK, who had Covid last March, told the briefing his life before coronavirus “was really, really good”.
He added: “I was 42 years old, a proud dad with a successful company as an occupational psychologist. I used to swim regularly, I had just finished building an extension to the rear of our house.”
He said having Covid was so scary that he “recorded messages to my wife and daughter” in case he died.
He also suffered fatigue and had a “head that felt like it was pumped up like a balloon” as he went on his “corona coaster journey”.
He added: “Summer and autumn was a horrible time. I kept being hit by new waves of symptoms. I lost sensation one day on my right hand side and was sent to hospital for a scan to see whether I had developed a stroke.
“And the day my feet went purple I was again sent to hospital to check whether I had developed a clot on my legs. There were periods where I just shook uncontrollably on my bed.
“I was so exhausted but I was just unable to sleep.”
He said graded exercise therapy “led me to crash again” and he could not walk to a local park, and had to “get a taxi to just five minutes up the road”.
With the help of a cognitive behavioural therapist, he began techniques to use his energy sparingly.
“The biggest issue I have now is fatigue, brain fog, and my breathing is still quite erratic. My legs feel very, very heavy still.”
He said his feet and hands also still suffer flare-ups and go bright red.
“I think one of the hardest things is just people not believing you, them telling you just to get on with it,” he added.