Tuesday, Jul 05, 2022

Over 200 Million Non-Covid Patients Left In The Lurch

About 33 per cent of the Indian population above 30 years is suffering from one or more lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cardiac problems, blood pressure, thyroid and cancer.

About 33 per cent of the Indian population above 30 years is suffering from one or more lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cardiac problems, blood pressure, thyroid and cancer. Photo by Jitender Gupta/Outlook

Covid-19 is not just scary for those who got infected, but also life-threatening for critically ill non-Covid patients.

The unplanned and poor healthcare system has worsened the situation of critically ill non-Covid patients. Today, the entire system is focusing on managing the supplies, beds and oxygen for Covid patients. But are we even considering the scenario of our non-Covid patients who need regular check-ups and follow-ups at the hospitals?

No doubt, Covid-19 is scary and life-threatening, and the second wave has hit unimaginable proportions. Almost all Covid patients are suffering from a high level of anxiety, fluctuating oxygen. Over the past ten days, I am sure we all would have received so many calls for medicines, oxygen and beds. The Indian government has so far failed to give succour to Covid-affected families. But the biggest challenge is for chronic disease patients or those who require regular follow-ups. What happens to them? Last year was a complete washout and this year again is a repetitive saga. It seems we are heading towards the same.

Patients with diseases like cancer, diabetes, renal and HIV need regular access to hospitals. The fear of infection and non-availability of beds, and shortage of oxygen and ventilators is creating havoc among people.

About 33 per cent of the Indian population above 30 years is suffering from one or more lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cardiac problems, blood pressure, thyroid and cancer.

In 2020 alone, India has seen 1.32 million (1324413) new cancer cases which is like three patients per minute. India is the second-largest country in diabetes, and we have 77 million people with diabetes (IDF Diabetes Atlas). Diabetes can lead to heart diseases, kidney diseases, eye problems and liver ailments. If we add up all chronic patients like Diabetes, Hypertension, Cardiac ailments, arthritis, COPD, the number is huge for chronic conditions. And if we add 104 million senior citizens (Population Census 2011), the number could swell .

In 2013, according to Government of India (The Planning Commission) 10-15 per cent of total population suffered from mental health issues. With COIVD this is likely to see an upward swing. Nearly 5.8 million Indians die because of diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart and lung diseases every year, indicating one out of 4 Indians has risks of dying from an NCD before reaching 70.

There are chronic conditions that need regular check-ups and even critical care. If all the hospitals are asked to have beds for Covid patients, how do we keep non-Covid patients safe while providing them with the care they need in the hospital?

Today we can see a shortage of oxygen and ventilators in the country. This fear has forced people to stock oxygen cylinders and medicines for their families who may get infected with Covid. But why is the government not sensitising these people that unnecessarily stocking such stuff for the future is actually putting several lives at risk at the current moment!

Many critical and planned surgeries are getting postponed, and the government is entirely focusing on the Covid pandemic. But we need to take care of the non-Covid ill patients as well. Do we have any plan for them? Such patients equally require oxygen and ventilators. We will have to stock them abundantly, considering the requirements of these materials for non-Covid patients. With the surge in Covid cases and the oxygen requirement for these patients, the suppliers have started delaying the supplies to the hospitals for critically ill patients. The government needs to have a robust plan and should also focus on such patients.

There is a surge in deaths due to Covid, but we should not forget that there are other diseases as well, due to which India witnesses a large number of deaths. What strategies have we adopted to take care of people with other diseases? Also, we need to plan to keep such people away from this pandemic as Covid is acting as a catalyst in comorbid patients leading to severity among them. If all the hospitals are asked to have more beds for Covid patients, why are we not understanding that the healthcare frontliners are the same for both categories? We also know that this new wave is mutating faster; what precautions are we taking to ensure that this is not spreading from Covid patient to non-Covid patient?

The last wave of Covid in 2020 almost led to the collapse of the Indian healthcare system. We could have planned our system during the non-peak times of Covid and set examples for other countries. But our leaders got lenient towards this pandemic and declared a victory, and it has now put the Indian healthcare system through an existential crisis.

We know that India has a large population, and each state is like a different country when it comes to local needs. We could have studied the models of other countries that managed the pandemic very effectively, and at least state-wise, we could have planned to make the system a robust one. But we did nothing. Access to healthcare is our fundamental right, but the government has failed to provide the same.

The Indian healthcare system has collapsed completely, and we need to have a new and robust approach to rebuild our system and protect our citizens. But for this, we need to first to have a knowledgeable and skilled team in the government. The existing team has not delivered even on the basic and instead has worsened the situation during this pandemic. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision is great, but the team delivering the plan has ruined the situation. The leaders need to introspect and have a team of people who can keep the citizens of India as a priority and plan accordingly.

India needs to really rethink and strategise very carefully the step ahead. If the system fails to deliver and protect our nation, there will be chaos in the country. If the current wave lasts for another month, there will be streetfights and bloodshed. We do not know how many more waves this pandemic has, but our plans need to keep India ready to face any eventuality. It is time for a shakeup at every level.

(The author is a healthcare public policy professional and leads public policy at Health Parliament - An Evidence-based Policy Think Tank. She tweets @MevishPVaishnav. Views expressed are personal, and do not necessarily reflect those of Outlook Magazine.)