× Home Projects Partners FAQs Contacts

NCDs: Promoting social protection programs to support chronically ill patients

Dec. 21, 2022
NCDs: Promoting social protection programs to support chronically ill patients
Image of a patient taking a blood pressure test as captured by our photographer. PHOTO | IFAKARA/FILE

A recent study on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) conducted by researchers from Tanzania and Switzerland has highlighted the importance of promoting social protection programs that support people with chronic illnesses. This, along with the decentralization of chronic care services, would help the patients to cope with the social and economic consequences of their disease, believes the scientists.

Brady Hooley and Fabrizio Tedios from Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), Switzerland; and Sally Mtenga from Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania, conducted the study with the aim of examining the role of NCD patients’ social ties as informal caregivers and whether receiving their support is associated with engagement in care.

To give a prospect on the instrumental role of social networks and social support in the promotion of NCD patients’ social ties, the scientists also measured the material support that patients receive from their networks. Each support was found to be essential to the patient. 

“Our findings indicate that patients’ social ties play an important role in filling the gaps in formal social health protection and incur substantial costs by doing so. The instrumental role of even non-material social support in promoting engagement in care deserves greater attention when developing policies for improving this population’s engagement in care,” they wrote in their paper published in the International Journal of Public Health on November 23, 2022.

A total of 100 patients, with at least one previous NCD diagnosis, were recruited and surveyed between July and August 2021. Their recruitment was done at the St. Francis Referral Hospital and Kibaoni Health Centre; both located in Ifakara, in the rural Kilombero District of Tanzania.

In the survey, they examined the composition and structure of NCD patients’ informal support networks and the function of informal social support as it relates to coping with chronic diseases. 

The findings showed that the patient’s age, gender and marital status determined the difference in the amount of social support received from their social network and was also associated with higher odds of treatment adherence. Overall, the participants reported having small, dense social support networks. Also, the findings showed that patients received financial contributions from their social network support despite a majority of them (85%) being registered with a health insurance scheme.

The scientists urged against these findings saying, “The informal support networks of NCD patients living in rural Tanzania play an instrumental role in facilitating access to care and filling gaps left by social health protection schemes… It is vital to improve the decentralization of chronic care services and to promote social protection programs that more comprehensively support people with chronic conditions and their support networks in coping with the social and economic consequences of their disease.”

Additionally, they called for policymakers to consider several measures that would relieve caregivers of the burden and ensure that the elderly and those living with chronic diseases can age with dignity and lead fulfilling lives. The proposed measures include; scaling up health insurance coverage to reduce the burden of out-of-pocket healthcare expenditures and, promoting the decentralization of care for common NCDs in order to mitigate the burden of direct, non-medical costs incurred by patients.

>> Link to the full publication: https://doi.org/10.3389/IJPH.2022.1605366

>> Read other Ifakara publications here: https://ihi.or.tz/publications/journals-paper/