The last two months in the second wave of pandemic, which crippled an already overburdened healthcare system, has gravely affected Indians suffering from non-Covid chronic ailments like cancer, heart and kidney diseases, health experts said on Tuesday.
Essential health services were disrupted during the last two months because of the exponential rise in the number of Covid cases, which also led to the exhaustion of health care infrastructure, along with the diversion of health services to Covid care.
Other major reasons include fear of contracting Covid, misinformation and limitations on movement due to lockdowns, according to experts.
“Covid-19 pandemic affected non-Covid care at all levels of health care from community to tertiary level. Services of chronic diseases care such as cancer care, hypertension, and diabetes management got affected the most due to diversion of health services to Covid care and people were not able to seek healthcare due to restrictions and fear due to pandemic,” Dr Harshal R. Salve, Associate Professor at Centre for Community Medicine, AIIMS, New Delhi, told IANS.
Last month, a plea was filed in the Supreme Court claiming that in the second wave, most of the state governments have put restrictions and protocols, which resulted into denial of regular treatment and check-up of patients with heart, kidney, liver and lung ailments.
“Non-Covid-19 patients are facing a lot of difficulties. Major surgeries are postponed in all the hospitals as doctors are fully busy with Covid-19 patients… for heart patients or pregnant women, it is very difficult to get admission,” the petitioner said.
Due to Covid pandemic, many “treatable diseases” have shifted to the stage of being “untreatable”, Dr Ashish Rai, Director, Department of Plastic, Aesthetic & Reconstructive Surgery, Jaypee Hospital, Noida, told IANS.
According to Rai, patients with cancer, particularly the elderly, have been the most affected. “Elderly cancer patients often delay their hospital visits, thinking that it may increase the risk of Covid infection to their children,” he said.
“Cancer patients have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. Overall, early diagnosis, check-ups and treatment was delayed for people suffering from cancer. And those infected with Covid were at higher risk of mortality,” added Dr Rahul Bhargava, Cancer Expert, Director, Department of Clinical Hematology & Bone Marrow Transplant, Fortis Hospital, Gurugram.
Cancer treatment can be successful during its early days but can become untreatable in the advanced stage of the disease. Covid also increased mortality among patients with an active cancer or who had a history of cancer in the past five years, the experts noted.
“Several patients also suffered delay in treatment because in most of the cases family members or the patient themselves were afflicted with Covid. Almost 90 per cent were postponed who had no choice but to remain bedridden or in disabling conditions,” said Dr L. Tomar, Director, Department of Orthopaedics, Max Super Speciality Hospital,
Further, children suffering from congenital anomalies/deformities were also affected due to the pandemic.
“For example, cleft lip surgery must be done between three to six months of birth. But many such kids could not be operated upon due to Covid restrictions imposed last year, and which continued this year,” Rai said. While it may not turn fatal as cancer, yet it affects the treatment.
“People must understand that Covid is here to stay, and vaccinations can safeguard them. Get vaccinated. Do not delay treatment against other diseases. Since most healthcare workers including doctors, nurses and staff have been vaccinated, there is no fear of further infections, unlike last year,” Rai advised.