Impact of COVID-19 on Non-COVID Healthcare

COVID-19 has brought the world to a standstill, prompting upheavals in virtually every sector. Healthcare workers are leading the battle against the novel virus with a fast depleting armamentarium racing against time to try out existing drugs and developing vaccines. Caught in a catch-22 situation to choose between lives & livelihood, numerous governments have chosen the former as a last resort measure to contain the infection. 

Childline India received over 92,000 SOS calls pertaining to child abuse and violence between March 20-31

As days progressed, numerous fault lines surfaced. One important issue was a heightened risk of domestic abuse against women, with the triggers being unavailability of alcohol, loss of income & job insecurity. Women & child helplines have reported a surge in the number of distress calls since the start of the curfew. Childline India received over 92,000 SOS calls pertaining to child abuse and violence between March 20-31. With a majority of the rural populace without adequate telecom services, these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg. Victims are also cut off from concerned resources due to travel restrictions in place. This highlights the lacuna in psychiatric care in dire situations when it is needed the most. Domestic abuse if not attended to, can eventually turn into a pandemic in itself. 

India has a long history of being plagued by microbes, some being exclusive to the nation. We continue to hold the sticky distinction of being the ‘tuberculosis capital’ of the world. With an incidence rate of 199 (per 100,000 population), an estimated 1200 Indians die daily due to the tuberculosis and its related complications. This number struck a chord with those succumbing to COVID around the world. A painful reminiscence, courtesy of the information driven world we live in. Why aren’t people talking about it? Why don’t news channels have a real time count of TB cases? Is tuberculosis not worthy of the fanfare enjoyed by its viral counterpart, corona? 

Putting aside the negativity, India could take a leaf out of this book to restructure the existing state of affairs. Wearing masks in public have become à la mode in the nation. India can be the biggest profiteer from this lesson, considering the gamut of respiratory pathogens it harbors. Another popular trend is the usage of hand sanitizers. This is a welcome move considering the high under-5 mortality with a significant chunk attributed to diarrhea due to poor hand hygiene. It is perhaps the golden time to inculcate in people, especially children, the correct steps of hand washing. 

In a country like ours where confirmed tuberculosis patients, both on treatment and without, move about freely, potentially infecting others, this is an important take home message for healthcare workers, policymakers and the patients themselves to enforce social distancing norms even after the pandemic has passed. The COVID episode serves as a wakeup call to highlight the increased need for personal care and hygiene for Indians, who were otherwise oblivious to the pathogens amidst them. 

Healthcare, akin to a Shakespearean play, comprises many actors all motivated by different incentives and opinions towards objectives, along with evolving scientific understanding, changing government regulations etc. The list is tiring and non exhaustive. At the end of the day, when we measure healthcare, it must not be about the diseases cured but by the diseases prevented. A transformation of the current system of sick care to a system which actually works to keep us healthy must be encouraged. A system which does not consider the sophistication of technology or the proficiency of the doctors, but how rarely we needed them. 

– Shriee Harihara Sudhan B S

Final Year MBBS, Shri Sathya Sai Medical College and Research Institute

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