COVID-19 affected more people in a single year than any other infectious disease over a comparative timeframe in recent years.
COVID-19 figures are often compared to other diseases. However, until recently, the figures were simply not available to make these comparison points. According to IndiaSpend, by the end of 2020 India officially had ten million confirmed cases. However, this figure only accounts for diagnosed cases. Estimates that have attempted to predict asymptomatic cases, as well as those that have simply gone under the radar, suggest 75 million cases to be a conservative figure.
According to Government data, the ten million laboratory-confirmed cases alone almost amount to double the number of typhoid, tuberculosis, malaria and pneumonia combined for 2018.
The higher estimates for COVID-19 figures have long exceeded officially confirmed cases. As Health Issues India posted in October of last year, “following on from a serological survey assessing antibody levels against the novel coronavirus…nationwide, one of the country’s leading medical agencies [the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)] weighed in on the situation. More than sixty million people in India – ten times the official figure – could have contracted the novel coronavirus, claimed the ICMR on Tuesday.”
While cases far surpass that of other infectious diseases in India, another important metric to consider is the mortality rate. In this regard, COVID-19 does not take the top spot, with several diseases reaping a far higher toll every year.
By December 31st, 2020, COVID-19 claimed the lives of 149,018 individuals in India. By comparison, malaria claimed the lives of 9,620 in 2018, while 69,000 individuals died of complications resulting from AIDS in 2017. Of the “big three” diseases, tuberculosis has surpassed the death toll of COVID-19 across recent years, with 435,000 dying yearly across recent years. In the case of tuberculosis, the situation is set to worsen over time as drug-resistant strains become an ever present threat both in India and globally.
Diarrhoeal deaths continue to hold one of the top spots, with lower respiratory infections and tuberculosis all surpassing COVID-19 related deaths. 632,345 diarrhoeal deaths occurred in 2019, according to the Global Burden of Disease report. Lower respiratory infections killed a further 433,661.
COVID-19, displayed in this context, has revealed itself to rank among India’s most common causes of death. The sheer number of infections, coupled with the potential for “long-COVID” — with symptoms shown to persist longer than six months according to recent studies — illustrate the sheer health burden the world faces.