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Need to focus on existing non-COVID patients seeking medical treatment for various other chronic diseases: Experts

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Little attention has been given to non-COVID-19 patients who are facing impact of this pandemic with deteriorating health conditions due to inaccessibility for screening, diagnostics, treatment

There’s no better time than now to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of all the doctors and healthcare workers, in every corner of this world as they contribute immensely to the ever spiking COVID-19 positive cases. As the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the entire country to halt, several doctors have deliberated the need to also focus on existing non-COVID patients seeking medical treatment for various other chronic diseases.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, all the hospitals and clinics in the nation have been transformed into COVID facilities for treatment and management of the patients. Little attention has been given to the non-COVID-19 patients who are facing the impact of this pandemic with deteriorating health conditions due to inaccessibility for screening, diagnostics and treatment.

According to a recent report by WHO, patients suffering from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension, cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases like tuberculosis are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 related illnesses and deaths[1]. According to data, cancer treatment took a massive hit in the month of April and May, when roughly 70 per cent of patients could not access timely diagnosis, life-saving surgery and treatment. Similar is the case for patients suffering from tuberculosis (TB). According to the Central TB Division’s Nikshay portal, capturing the real-time data, the diagnosis of new tuberculosis cases had witnessed a decline during the pandemic due to the inaccessibility of screening and diagnostic facilities. 

On the rising infections in healthcare industry, several doctors and health experts have stepped in with numerous measures to address the disease burden on non-COVID patients.

Dr Parimala Devi John, Consulting OBGYN Specialist and Colposcopist, Fortis Hospital, said,” Lockdowns and travel restrains to curb the spread of COVID-19 had a grave impact on cancer patients in the last three months to access health care facilities. Lack of timely diagnosis and treatment also the fear of contracting the infection led to a surge of advanced cases across the country. While cervical cancer is one of the most easily manageable cancers, unfortunately, the awareness around the disease remains low in India. Every seven minutes, one Indian woman dies of cervical cancer. Thus, today every woman should opt for early cervical cancer screening and testing for better management of the disease. With the advancement in the technologies, women undergoing screening should opt for Liquid Based Cytology (LBC) as it can detect abnormal cells at the initial stages of pre-cancer. Thus, preventing cervical cancer from progressing and ensuring that it can be cured when detected and treated at an early stage.”

Dr Anil Jain, Pulmonologist, National Institute of Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases (NITRD), New Delhi said, “As the novel coronavirus outbreak continues to push the country’s healthcare system to the brink, several reports have highlighted the grave consequences of the pandemic when it comes to early diagnosis and timely treatment of TB patients. Substantial health service disruption in the country has decreased clinic visits by TB patients drastically. Thus, it is of high importance that patients should get access to screening, diagnostics and utilisation of advanced techniques like automated diagnostic instruments for early detection and treatment to reduce TB transmission and deaths.”

Dr SP Ganesan – Hitech Diagnostics, Chennai said, “With the initial hit of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a phase where only COVID patients were diagnosed, tested, and treated. However, now with the government’s decision to lift the lockdown and opening of OPDs, there is a need to understand the importance of taking strict precautionary measures and follow guidelines for safe specimen management. Proper collection of specimens is the most important step in the laboratory diagnosis of infectious diseases. Yet, equal importance needs to be given to staff and patient safety. It is important to treat every specimen as potential COVID specimen and take proper precautions while handling and collecting blood and urine samples: safety gears for healthcare workers, closed specimen collection using fully disposable sample collection kit, proper packaging and transportation precautions. Right planning ensures staff safety as well timely and accurate results to patients.”

There are many such patients who are unaware of their disease condition due to unavailability of the proper screening and testing. Thus, the need of the hour is to tackle such diseases and patients with timely screening and diagnostics for better disease management. 

Reference: 

[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/01-06-2020-covid-19-significantly-impacts-health-services-for-noncommunicable-diseases 

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