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Cost of coronavirus: Routine health services derailed in India

For months now, Indian doctors have been warning that patients with serious and chronic conditions have been missing appointments, and have been speaking out about the difficulties in accessing medicines, dialysis and other life-saving interventions because of Coronavirus-related disruptions.

Now new official data confirms that health services in India have been drastically curtailed, with serious potential consequences.

The National Health Mission’s Health Management System (NHM-HMIS) tracks data from over two lakh health facilities across the country, from primary health centres to district hospitals in every district of the country, the majority of which are government facilities and in rural areas, and is updated nearly every day.

This official data, only made public this week, shows a worrying crash in access to healthcare beginning in March as the lockdown kicked in, and continuing up to June – the latest month for which the data is available.

The NHM, this week, published updated data for April, May and June. Right from March onwards, outpatient attendance crashed, and with it, the number of people accessing treatment for serious conditions including cancer, diabetes, strokes, high blood pressure and mental illness, fell dramatically.

For most diseases, OPD attendance in June had not yet revived to even 50% of the attendance in January this year. This could imply that many in rural India with serious conditions have gone virtually untreated for the last few months.

At the same time, hospital admissions for major communicable diseases also declined sharply. The number of people seeking admission for dengue, malaria, fever, diarrhoea, all declined sharply. Most worryingly, the number of people admitted to hospital for the treatment of tuberculosis, the respiratory disease that causes the most deaths in India, also fell sharply.

The NHM-HMIS data also mentions how immunisation services were disrupted. The number of children who got the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, administered to prevent tuberculosis – in April was half that of the number for January – which means that one million fewer children got the vaccine that month.

Data also revealed that fewer women accessed maternal healthcare in March and April 2020, when the lockdown imposed across the country was most stern. While many might have chosen to postpone elective surgeries to avoid the risk of infection, the data shows that the number of operations conducted for both major and minor procedures declined drastically as well.

Another area of concern was the decline in emergency admissions. While fewer accidents could be explained by people being under lockdown, fewer admissions for complications with deliveries could point to lack of access to services. – India Today

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