COVID-19 Impact: Rural India’s other health emergencies take a back seat

NEW DELHI: India’s rural areas witnessed around 30% fewer cardiac emergencies reaching health facilities in March 2020, compared to last year as prevention and treatment services for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were disrupted due to the outbreak of coronavirus in the country.

A World Health Organization (WHO) survey conducted in 155 countries during a three-week period in May confirmed that though the impact of covid-19 is global, but low-income countries are most affected. People living with NCDs are at higher risk of severe covid-19-related illness and death, the WHO said.

“Many people who need treatment for diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes have not been receiving the health services and medicines they need since the covid-19 pandemic began,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general, WHO, adding that it is vital that countries find innovative ways to ensure that essential services for NCDs continue, even when they fight the deadly virus.

More than half (53%) of the countries surveyed have partially or completely disrupted services for hypertension treatment, 49% for treatment for diabetes and diabetes-related complications, 42% for cancer treatment, and 31% for cardiovascular emergencies. Over 50% countries, including India, reported that they had postponed public screening programmes such as for cancer.

In yet another example of non covid-19 patients hit hard during the pandemic, the National Thalassemia Welfare Society (NTWS) on Monday wrote to the Delhi government regarding the hardships of children suffering from Thalassemia, a blood disorder, requiring frequent blood transfusion.

The Lok Nayak hospital was converted into dedicated a covid-19 ward. As a result, all 150 thalassemia patients registered at the hospital were diverted to other hospitals in Delhi. Many of these thalassemia patients who resided in trans-Yamuna area started taking transfusions at Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital. Recently, GTB hospital with 500 beds was also designated as a covid-19 hospital.

“If alternate arrangements are not made immediately, the children will start facing problems from tomorrow itself. Once transfusion cycle is delayed/disturbed they land up into severe anaemia making them highly prone to infections, which is disastrous during the covid pandemic,” said J S Arora, general secretary, NTWS.

The World Health Statistics report released last month by WHO revealed alarming facts about India’s existing healthcare status, which has been further impacted by covid-19. The report, that aimed tracking the progress towards sustainable development goals (SDG) targets, said almost 70% hypertension cases in India are undiagnosed. Less than 10% cases are treated and controlled, which is less than most of the countries in the region. Also, close to 60% cases of diabetes remain undiagnosed, while as almost 35% cases are treated, the WHO report said. – Livemint

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