Exhaustion, long-term stress, nervousness, but also an increase in alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking and - above all - deterioration of health and difficulty in contacting a physician - this is the image that emerges from the nationwide report "Poles one year after the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic outbreak", published by Aflofarm Foundation. What other effects has one year of fighting the pandemic brought?

The first case of SARS-CoV-2 in Poland was reported on 4th March 2020. The virus has been spreading ever since, taking its toll in the form of a dramatically increasing number of infected, hospitalized and fatal victims. At the moment, according to official data, almost 2.9 million people have fallen ill in Poland, with 75,000 deaths due to the infection. After over a year of fighting the pandemic, we know that the effects of the virus have affected everyone - including those who managed to avoid infection.

- Over the past year we have witnessed events that until now we knew only from fantasy movies. Closure of educational, cultural and sports facilities, remote teaching of children, prohibition on leaving the household, the necessity to wear masks, conversion of hospitals and sports stadiums into COVID treatment facilities, online consultations instead of medical visits, difficulties with access to physicians and isolation - these are the everyday situations that we have been facing for over a year. We have been going through various phases of the pandemic seeing more and more bans and restrictions - asserts Tomasz Furman, CEO of the Aflofarm Foundation, which initiated the report. As part of the Aflofarm Foundation we decided to examine the physical and psychological wellbeing of Poles, and gather their opinions on access to health care, in order to see what has affected our lives, and to what extent.

Poor health condition

The report " Poles one year after the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic outbreak", conducted by an independent research agency Biostat and commissioned by Aflofarm Foundation, shows that as many as 58.3% of people still experience effects of the infection, such as fatigue (over 71%), mood deterioration (over 48%), joint and muscle pains (46.7%), or circulatory or heart disorders (over 33%).

However, sick people are not the only ones negatively affected by the pandemic. As many as 51.5% of respondents indicate that their health worsened due to exposure to prolonged pandemic-related stress. Some of the most commonly cited complaints included increased nervousness (52.3%), back pain (44.4%), headaches (36.4%), and decreased vision (36%). More than 40% of respondents also noted increased weight over the past year.

- The research clearly shows that the health condition of Poles is worse than before the pandemic - says Adam Fronczak, PhD., in the report commentary. The observations are very important from a medical point of view. Health care system has to prepare for increased consumption of a wide range of medical services. Greater accessibility to neurological and ophthalmological visits will be needed. Access to rehabilitation physicians and physiotherapists is a separate issue. There has always been a shortage of these services in our public health care system, and many rehabilitation procedures have been performed privately by patients, he adds.

(Non)primary care physician

Although the state of Poles' health has deteriorated over the last 12 months, many of us have not decided to contact a doctor. Report by Aflofarm Foundation showed that up to 1/3 of examinations, hospital stays or personal medical visits were cancelled due to the fear of COVID-19 infection. What is important, in as many as 45.3% of cases this resulted in worsening of the patient's health condition. Health problems were exacerbated due to the difficulty in contacting the primary care physician: 51% of respondents rated it bad or very bad. Access to specialists was assessed equally negatively (50.8%).

- The Covid-19 pandemic has shattered our confidence in the ability to control infectious diseases while exposing the condition of the health care system, which was unprepared for such burdens, concludes Adam Fronczak in the report commentary.

The report, "Poles one year after the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic," also addresses the topic of, telepresence and e-visits, which have been particularly well received by patients. More than 77% of respondents indicated that this form of contact with a doctor is ideal when it comes to e-prescription, and 64% of respondents see its value in the aspect of minor medical consultations. Also, more than 46% of survey participants indicate that they would like to be able to obtain an e-prescription in this form once the pandemic is over.

Women more vulnerable to pandemic effects

Nearly 60% of Polish women said they became more nervous during the pandemic, while slightly more than 45% of men reported greater nervousness. Factors that contributed to such a high level of stress included fear for the health of loved ones (71.9%), isolation from loved ones (60.8%), fear of losing employment (37.1%), and financial problems (38%). Women also declared more frequent and more intense susceptibility to the effects of the pandemic (fear for life and health of loved ones, fear of loss of work, emerging pain complaints) and the introduced restrictions.

- The report shows that during the pandemic women complained about higher levels of stress. These data should not come as a surprise - women were responsible not only for organizing children's free time but also for school duties at home - stresses Monika Talarowska, MD, in the report commentary.

Pandemic at home

Respondents who observed a deterioration in family relationships (29.2%) consider this a result of limitation in contacts (31.8%), as well as ... the need to be with each other all the time (23.6%). In third place, unfortunately, was the deterioration of the financial situation (20.9%). Despite this, the Aflofarm Foundation report shows that it is primarily family that can be counted on in a crisis situation - more than four out of five respondents (81.6%) received help from a family member during isolation or quarantine. Friendship relationships were also very strong: as many as 44.8% of respondents could count on support from friends.

Children's remote learning has also affected our well-being. In the 35-49 age group, as many as 51.6% of respondents admitted that this form of education and the problems associated with it had a negative impact on their lives.

Which restrictions proved to be the worst?

As many as 63.1% of respondents felt that the restriction that had the greatest negative impact on their lives over the past year was...wearing a mask! This was followed by a ban on movement (61.5%), restrictions in travel (60.6%). Interestingly, only 23% of respondents indicated that restrictions on their ability to participate in religious worship had a negative impact on their well-being. They were more affected by the closure of cinemas, theaters and cultural venues (48.8%) and even bars, pubs and restaurants (49.8%).

- I hope that this data will contribute to the conversation about all the negative side effects that the pandemic has caused in our lives - comments Tomasz Furman, CEO at Aflofarm Foundation.

About the report

The Report was commissioned by Aflofarm Foundation, which aims at supporting health care, promoting preventive health care and active lifestyle, as well as triggering knowledge in the field of pharmacy and medicine. Research was conducted throughout March 2021, which is exactly one year after the pandemic was declared, through CATI and CAWI research methods on a group of 1,000 respondents - of which 52.5% consisted of women. The survey was representative by gender, age and province.
We encourage you to download the report available here.

About Aflofarm Foundation

Aflofarm Foundation is an organization with a main objective of supporting health care, promoting preventive health care and active lifestyle, as well as popularizing knowledge in the field of pharmacy and medicine. Through its activities, we also want to support research and initiatives that contribute to the development of science in these fields. In addition, the foundation will also pursue side goals, which in the long run would translate into the quality of life of people in the surrounding world. Such goals include activities to protect the environment, promote education and sport.
In 2018, Aflofarm Foundation launched its first social campaign "Don't Burn at the Start". The campaign is held under the patronage of the Minister of National Education, among others. The main objective is to promote anti-smoking attitudes among young people aged 12-16 years, and especially to fight against reaching for the first cigarette. The campaign has covered key media: press, television, radio and social media.

For more information, visit the campaign website at www.niespalsienastarcie.pl.

In 2019, Aflofarm Foundation together with the Supreme Pharmaceutical Chamber initiated the image campaign "Pharmacist at first", aimed at supporting the authority of the pharmacy profession. The campaign was to encourage using the services of pharmacists in pharmacies in case of doubts related to the use of medicines or minor health problems and to support the promotion of the need to introduce pharmaceutical care in Poland in the future. As part of the campaign we have created an image spot promoting the pharmacist profession and four animated educational spots. The campaign was based on research conducted by an independent research agency Biostat, commissioned by Aflofarm Foundation and the Supreme Pharmaceutical Chamber. This was the first ever such comprehensive research, in which 380 pharmacists and 1067 patients took part. The aim was to check how both groups perceive the profession of a pharmacist, and how the relationship between the master of pharmacy and the patient looks like. Their detailed results along with the analysis were published in the report "Pharmacist in Poland. Nationwide image research 2019".

For more information on the campaign, visit www.popierwszefarmaceuta.pl.