Pandemic Likely Reduced Access to Parkinson’s Medication Globally, Hit Poorer Countries Harder

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by Forest Ray PhD |

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COVID-19 and the brain

The COVID-19 pandemic likely limited access to Parkinson’s disease medication globally, causing a worsening of patients’ symptoms, according to a recent study.

Also, poorer countries appear to have been affected more than wealthier ones, according to the study, “The impact of COVID‐19 on access to Parkinson’s disease medication,” which was published in the journal Movement Disorders.

An international team of researchers assessed the pandemic’s impact on access to Parkinson’s medications by sending a 14-question survey to the roughly 10,000 members on the Movement Disorders Society email list.

The survey was sent June 4 and again on June 23. As of July 8, 346 responses had been analyzed.

Of those responses, 317 (nearly 92%) came from doctors, with India (9.2%), Brazil (7.5%), and the United States (6.1%) accounting for the greatest number of respondents.

Overall, more than 45% of respondents (157 patients) reported their patients had experienced difficulty obtaining their Parkinson’s medication as a result of the pandemic.

Of those, 134 (59%) reported increased disability, 19 (8.4%) reported increased hospitalization, six (2.6%) reported increased mortality and 68 (30%) felt that the COVID-19 pandemic had no obvious clinical impact on people with Parkinson’s.

At least half of the respondents from eight of the 16 regions included in the study reported difficulty in maintaining regular access to Parkinson’s medication throughout the pandemic.

Text responses from Kenya, Bangladesh, Ghana, and the U.S. described reductions in medication availability for reasons such as transportation disruptions, lower economic development, and both individual and systemic financial challenges.

The impact that COVID-19 had on access to medication varied with countries’ income.

Of those respondents who reported such difficulty, nearly 88% came from low-, 64% from low-middle, 57.6% from upper-middle, and nearly 23% from high-income countries.

As a country’s income level declined, the increase in reported disability rose, from 37.2% among high-income countries to 100% among low-income countries.

The researchers noted that lockdowns, implemented by many countries in an attempt to control the spread of the virus, and the diversion of resources toward pandemic responses may have caused considerable disruptions to delivery systems, clinical procedures, and access to dispensaries.

Although telemedicine has surged in use, the researchers mentioned that it may be more valuable for follow-up treatment than for initial assessments and diagnoses. Furthermore, patients who struggle with cognitive impairments, impulse control, and psychosis may find it less appealing.

“Our results offer preliminary data that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected [Parkinson’s] patients’ access to regular medication,” the researchers concluded.

They added: “COVID-19 has diverted resources away from chronic conditions towards the fight against COVID-19 in many countries. Resource-poor countries seem to be disproportionately affected compared to their affluent counterparts.”