Pandemic’s Effect on Care of Non-Coronavirus Patients

In the last week of April 2020, a septuagenarian in the state of J&K, India who was a renal dialysis patient for 2 years, was asked to get his next round of dialysis from a private nursing home as the hospital where he normally went for treatment refused the dialysis procedure since the entire hospital was converted into a COVID care center. The nursing home neither had the apt infrastructure nor the skilled personnel to handle any kind of complications that is common during a dialysis. Unfortunately, the patient died in less than a week. Another dialysis patient in Mumbai had to wait for 7 hours for treatment as he was not carrying his covid test result report. Around 1,30,000 patients are on dialysis in India and most of them depend on private dialysis centers.

In another caustic case, a 25 yr old pregnant woman in Delhi, visited two of the leading government hospitals in Delhi for antenatal care. Both the hospitals denied her admission as she was not Covid-19 positive. As a result, she visited 6 hospitals and maternity clinics in next 48hrs before giving birth outside AIIMS. Many hospitals and nursing homes are completely shut even if one case comes up in them.

Patients Struggle for Health Services

There are plethora of such cases rising across the country as our healthcare system is under stress from managing the contagion outbreak. This is despite the fact that GoI has asked state chief secretaries to ensure that hospitals and clinics do not ask for a Covid test report from every patient who requires medical treatment. This raises red-flags and serious questions on the local authorities and regulatory bodies who have also threatened to cancel the operating license of hospitals and clinics, if they turn away any non-Covid patient. Patients also fear of the escalated economic cost if their treatment cost is not claimed or reimbursed as not all nursing home and clinics fall under health insurance policies.

Similar danger mounts on Cancer and TB patients. India has the world’s largest TB load of 25%. In Mumbai, due to COVID, lack of adherence to TB drug regimen has risen to 40% from 15%. A significant decrease in TB notification has been witnessed which indicated that access to a TB center and subsequent diagnosis and reporting has been severely hit. These are dangerous signs which are being ignored. A TB patient can infect 10-15 more, and such patient can become a breeding-ground of new Coronavirus cases as Covid hits hard on low immunity patients. Many senior oncologists have claimed that due to difficulty in travelling during lockdown, many hospitals not providing regular treatment, hospitals shutting down and fear of contracting covid, have resulted in a delayed diagnosis of cancer patients which can push them to an advanced stage of cancer.

Haphazard Guidelines

There has to be clear and stringent guidelines by MoH to each state health authorities highlighting the delirious effect of not providing critical care to non-Covid cases. State should ensure that no patient is denied treatment for any ailment by a hospital (government or private). Instead of shutting down the entire hospital even for one covid case, a wiser approach of creating zones within the hospital can be implemented. Online, phone consultation and Tele-medicine modules should be made widespread thorough proper communication channels.

Our healthcare infrastructure is one of the weakest in the world with lack of adequate health care professional adding to the woes. We certainly can’t afford to inflict more burden on the already fragile healthcare services by denying treatment to those who are in need.

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