NEW DELHI: As Indias surging coronavirus caseload becomes an increasing worry for the globe, another health disaster is silently unfolding.
The worlds strictest lockdown crippled both routine and critical health services. More than a million children have missed crucial immunizations and hospital births have shown a sharp decline, indicating many women may have gone through unsafe childbirth at home. Outpatient critical care for cancer plunged 80% from February levels, the latest government data show.
But the biggest crisis is Indias longstanding battle with tuberculosis. The country has as many as 2.7 million TB patients currently, by far the most in the world, and the disease kills an estimated 421,000 Indians each year. The current gap in care could lead to an additional 6.3 million cases and 1.4 million deaths from tuberculosis by 2025, according to a study by Zarir Udwadia, a pulmonologist at Mumbais P.D. Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre.
“Miss a few days of any other treatment and you may not be harmed, but gaps in TB treatment will amplify resistance,” Udwadia said. “Our lack of health infrastructure is the reason we have been floundering amidst the sea of Covid cases. Its the reason why we have not been able to make progress against traditional and old enemies like malaria, typhoid, dengue.”
The failure to control tuberculosis has long plagued successive governments in India, which spends just 1.28% of gross domestic product on public health. That has left the system ill-equipped to control deadly diseases such as coronavirus: The South Asian nation now has the second-highest Covid-19 infection tally in the world, trailing only the US.
More than 65 million people in India live in densely packed and poorly ventilated slums like Dharavi in Mumbai, one of the biggest in Asia, which has long struggled with tuberculosis before it became a coronavirus hotspot. The fact that both TB and Covid-19 have a significant overlap in symptoms — breathlessness, cough, fever — make these areas critical to controlling both diseases.
The strict stay-at-home orders the country enforced at the end of March shut down Indias giant tuberculosis program for almost three months. In April, one million fewer children received the BCG vaccine that prevents severe tuberculosis, government data shows.
“There shouldve been bi-directional screening from the beginning, because in checking for one you may be missing the other,” said Chapal Mehra, a public health specialist and author of “Tuberculosis — Indias Ticking Time Bomb.” “India has ignored investing in health for three to four decades, and governments across the board have been guilty of this. We lack political will, we lack moral compulsions and we dont seem to value our citizens lives enough it seems.”
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been quick to laud front-line health workers, calling them “coronawarriors,” the federal government has only allocated an additional $2 billion to the fund the epidemics medical needs. That has sapped resources for non-virus related spending.
A spokesman for Indias ministry of health did not immediate respond to requests for comment. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said the “government will be increasing investments in public health to be absolutely ready for such eventualities in future.” But she mentioned no specific figure or timeline for this.
Infect, Infect, Infect
Indias health infrastructure is run down at the best of times, with understaffed public hospitals, chronic shortages of hospital beds, low intensive-care capacity and poorly trained staff. India has 1.7 nurses per 1,Read More – Source