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COVID-19 Impact: Patients see diseases worsen as treatments delayed or denied; experts say restoring routine health services crucial

Data released by the National Health Mission has highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has resulted in large scale disruption of routine health services in April, May and June.
The National Health Mission report has collated data from over 2 lakh health facilities across all districts, which include some private centres as well.
While the total number of child immunisation sessions saw a decline of 64 percent between January and April, around 6 lakh new born babies missed their first dose of oral polio vaccine. Nearly 1 million children did not receive their BCG vaccination during the same period. BCG is a vaccine primarily used against Tuberculosis. However, there has been a pickup in most child immunisation programmes between April and June.
TB diagnosis and treatment is also impacted and this is why the situation is alarming.
According to a study by the Stop TB Partnership, the disruption in health services caused by the pandemic could lead to 1.4 million additional TB related deaths globally in the next five years. India, which accounts for 27 percent of world's TB cases could see over 40,000 TB related deaths during the period.
The pandemic has severely hit treatment for critical ailments as well. Outpatient services for ailments like oncology, acute heart diseases saw a 76 percent drop in April compared to January.
So, should the government not prioritise the restoration of regular healthcare services? Experts say the need is to redirect resources & manpower back to routine health services fully and at the earliest to avoid another disease epidemic.
Sarojini Nadimpally, public health practitioner and the co-founder of Sama Resource Group says, "While ante-natal checks & institutional deliveries, 1.85 mn women's abortion rights are also compromised during the lockdown. Govt needs to plan for continuity of services."
Transport services need to resume for people to approach health centres, according to Dr Yogesh Jain, Co-founder of Jan Swasthya Sahyog said. He said, "New TB cases diagnosis have halved during the lockdown and patients now return with advanced stages of TB. Health machinery is still focussed on COVID19, now with more cases emerging from non-metros even more. Need to redirect resources & manpower back to routine services."
Dr Jain, who operates in rural Chhattisgarh said we could see cases of measles or childhood tuberculosis go up as immunisation schedules have been missed. "Not seeing an acceptable level of recovery in non-COVID or immunisation srvcs. Workers redirected to fight COVID19 are fatigued and this will slow progress."
Cancer care hospital chain HCG Global's Dr AjaiKumar says their hospitals are seeing a 15-20% increase in advanced cases of cancer as treatments were delayed, particularly in tier 2,3 towns.
However the positive is that Dr Ajaikumar says the fear of COVID-19 is reducing. Patient footfalls are now rising in HCG hospitals in small towns as people prefer centres close-by, big cities seeing less patient flow.
Watch the video for more.