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Step by step - getting chronic conditions back on track after COVID-19

31 March 2021 by Emma Lonsdale

Doomscrolling, panic buying, social distancing, lockdown.  

2020 brought us more than a pandemic, it created new words to describe how we think, live, and interact with each other.  


For people with a chronic disease, these words reflect more than an inconvenience. They reflect the anxiety of trying to find information about their condition and COVID-19, and the delicate balance of staying home or physical distancing while trying to work, care for families and manage their health. 


In many cases, people living with kidney disease, diabetes, heart conditions, cancer or stroke were affected by changes to health services, appointments, and access to medicine. At other times, there was a sense of conflict between advice to stay at home or the need to seek medical care.  


“I didn't want to mingle because of social distancing, but I also didn't want to leave my family in dire straits.” Chris 


Chris Lee is a Gulumerridjin Traditional Custodian and Karrajarri man living with diabetes and working in public health. He knows first-hand the importance of managing his condition and he devotes his time to improving the health of others in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. But he faced challenges navigating telehealth appointments and getting access to his regular medication during COVID-19.  


“I was running out of medication which added to my stress.” Chris 


Chris knew his diabetes could increase the risks associated with COVID-19, but it was hard to find information in the early stages of the pandemic. At the same time, others in the Aboriginal community were coming to him for help. He felt the weight of his concerns and the expectations of his community. Meanwhile lockdowns created a set of circumstances that heightened risk factors like unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, higher alcohol consumption, and poorer mental health in communities around Australia.  


“A lot of people were contacting me about what to do. And I didn't know. And I didn't know what to do about my own health.” Chris 


Mid-way through 2020, a conversation with a colleague encouraged Chris to reassess his health and take small steps to get back on track. Chronic disease organisations also recognised the need for disease-specific information via helplines, webinars and campaigns to help people manage their health and reduce risk factors during COVID.  


Now Chris is championing a new campaign to encourage the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to get back on track with their diabetes and health. The campaign recognises the impact of the pandemic and encourages people to check in with their healthcare team.  


While the campaign is targeted towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with diabetes, its messages are relevant for all chronic diseases – stay connected with your local GP or health care worker, go for your regular appointments, and don’t wait to get medical help if you need it at any time. 


The vaccine rollout is in progress. In the meantime, each step towards looking after our physical and mental health is one step closer to getting back on track after COVID-19. 


Back on Track is a campaign delivered by Diabetes Australia, funded by National Diabetes Services Scheme. 

A big thanks to Chris for sharing his personal experiences.

Emma Lonsdale is the Executive Officer of the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance @ACDPAlliance.


More information about chronic disease and COVID-19.

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