Experts call for better supply of medicines for Rheumatoid Arthritis patients during Lockdown

Leading rheumatologists and immunology specialists of India suggested patients of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, need to take extra care to avoid infection and should not abruptly stop prescribed medicines

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New Delhi: Eminent rheumatologists and immunology specialists from all over India at the IHW Council’s web summit said that the those who are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, should always use masks to prevent infection and should not abruptly stop taking the immunosuppressant medicines prescribed to them.

“Rheumatoid arthritis affects 1 percent of all population and there is no cure for this disease. However, with proper management, it can be controlled. During the lockdown, patients should not change the prescribed medication without consulting the doctor – there are immunosuppressants prescribed but none of the medicines make the patient more susceptible to the virus. In fact, if the medicines are stopped, it will be very difficult to treat the primary condition. Avoid hospitals as much as possible and use teleconsultation,” Dr Debasish Danda, Professor & Founder of Clinical Immunology & Rheumatology, CMC Vellore; President-Elect, Asia Pacific League of Associations for Rheumatology (APLAR).

“Renowned journals like The Lancet has advised that India needs to continue the lockdown for 10 weeks, and should be lifted carefully; we should expect a drastic change in lifestyle for a year or two after the current situation. Use masks, even homemade ones, at all costs as well as physical distancing – make sure you are not transmitting the infection to a healthcare worker because one such infected person can infect hundreds more. Eat simple, home-cooked, Indian food – some of our spices have anti-microbial property. However, remember naturopathy is only a drop of water in the ocean and should be backed by proper medicines. Also, ensure you are getting 8 hours of sleep, as prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO),” Dr. Danda added.

“There are nearly 200 disorders that can come under rheumatoid problems with diverse manifestations and the majority of them affect multiple organs. The signs of rheumatoid arthritis are pain and swelling in and around joints and stiffness in the morning for at least 30 minutes, pain in the back that gets better with activity, rashes, fatigue, hair fall, dryness of mouth, and oral and genital ulcerations. Prolonged fever unresponsive to medication is often mistaken for TB but even that can indicate rheumatoid arthritis,” said Dr. Uma Kumar, Professor & Head, Department of Rheumatology, AIIMS, New Delhi.

Adding to the precautionary measures, rheumatoid arthritis patients should take, Dr. Aman Sharma, Professor, Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Internal Medicine, PGIMER, Chandigarh said, “All patients must follow social distancing and isolation, especially those who take multiple drugs as they are more susceptible to the disease. Various rheumatological disease bodies have issued advisories and guidelines for the patients and they must diligently adhere to those. Identifying the early signs of the disease is also important. There are reports supply chain disruption of hydroxychloroquine but I am hopeful that the government will address this issue at the earliest.”

The virtual summit on the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis patients during the ongoing lockdown, organized by the Integrated Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council, was also attended by Dr. B G Dharmanand, Consultant Rheumatologist Vikram Hospital; Past President, IRA, Karnataka Chapter; Past Secretary, Past Vice President and Current President-Elect, Indian Rheumatology Association, and Dr Shashank M Akerkar, Consultant, Department of Rheumatology, Fortis Hospital, Mumbai.

IHW Council, a premier think tank that advocates for a healthy world through multilateral stakeholder engagement has been organizing online conferences since the beginning of lockdown in March on various aspects of the pandemic caused by COVID-19 and how patients of chronic diseases can manage their treatment despite staying home.

Mr. Kamal Narayan, CEO, IHW Council, who also moderated the session, said, “Rheumatoid arthritis is a degenerative disease that affects a large number of the adult population in India. However, during the lockdown, there is a growing concern among them about how various kinds of arthritis is going to affect them. The session today will work as a ‘do’s and don’t’s manual to these patients so that they can manage their conditions even when they are in the confines of their homes during the lockdown.”