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Coronavirus – not India’s sole health concern

Media coverage – especially on the topic of healthcare – is currently dominated by the coronavirus (COVID-19). This is not unexpected, as the disease figures worldwide are surging, now exceeding one million cases. However, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot lose sight of other health concerns, as failure to address these could reap a severe death toll.

Doctor labeling a blood sample tube positive with coronavirus 2019 or 2019-nCoV, novel coronavirus found in Wuhan, China. Outbreak of 2019-nCoV concept.Among the global causes of death, cancer reigns supreme, closely followed by heart disease, with 96 lakh and 94 lakh deaths globally per year respectively. These are followed by stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, at 58 lakh and 31 lakh respectively. It is at this point that infectious diseases begin to feature on the list, with lower respiratory infections taking the fifth spot with thirty lakh associated deaths. Among the umbrella term of lower respiratory infections are colds, the flu, and the coronavirus — typically causing death through complications such as pneumonia.

As of yet the global death toll of coronavirus is marginal compared to the flu, currently standing at 54,194. It is vital that the spread of the disease is limited, though it is important to ensure that the treatment of other diseases does not fall by the wayside in the process. 

Questions have been raised regarding India’s capacity to maintain the supply of medication for tuberculosis (TB). This may be the tip of the iceberg should the healthcare system continue to be overwhelmed with coronavirus cases.

India has made great strides in tackling a number of diseases and health issues, though there remains a long way to go. “A healthy India is no longer a dream. India has had notable achievements since independence in 1947,” read the National Health Profile 2019. “[Infant] mortality and crude death rate has been reduced considerably. Life expectancy at birth has increased, infant mortality and crude death rates have been greatly reduced, diseases such as smallpox, polio and guinea worm have been eradicated, and leprosy is at the verge of getting eliminated.”

A lack of preparation now, while cases are still limited, could see the healthcare system overwhelmed and supply lines stretched, leaving other conditions, such as India’s most common cause of death — heart disease — to cause considerable rates of mortality. 

The quarantine and the concept of social distancing allows the spread of coronavirus infection to be slowed, giving the healthcare system time and resources to deal with existing cases as well as prepare for future cases. Preparations for more coronavirus cases are vital, but the time bought through quarantine measures must also be used to ensure treatments are available for other diseases that continue to impact India’s health even as the new pandemic surges.

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