Prioritising COVID-19 doesn’t justify deaths from other diseases

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Covid-19 is wreaking havoc across the globe having infected millions and has directly killed hundreds of thousands with World Health Organisation (W.H.O) stating that the worst is yet to come. The figures reported are fatalities from people directly infected with Covid-19, however, the damage to patients suffering from preventable diseases are significant and often unaccounted for. 

Globally, medical systems are overburdened with Covid-19 patients often being unable to treat patients with other diseases. For example, the infatuation shown by many world leaders towards Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as a therapeutic for Covid-19, due to the diversion of this drug to Covid-19 patients patients suffering from Lupus and Arthritis couldn’t fulfil their prescription. Patients were even asked to “make a sacrifice” from their providers. Furthermore, the race to reach a treatment for Covid-19 has caused immunisation programs to halt globally. While the priority being assigned to Covid-19 is understandable it shouldn’t justify deaths of others: world leaders have labelled this as a war against an invisible enemy, therefore, negligence of preventable illness is the collateral damage.

Bill Gates wrote in The Economist recently that developed economies might see the peak by May but then Covid-19 will haunt poorer nations, with a worse effect. Many of the immunisation programs halted are in poorer nations, furthermore, there is a shortage of medical professionals across every global health system. The onus of the cumulative damage caused by Covid-19 is on the governments and authorities of our times. The W.H.O – while funded to oversee and track developments – is not funded enough to run programs. Governments need to fund their own and international health programs adequately to prevent such disasters again. 

Halting of immunisation programs reveals the fragility of the immunisation supply chains. The lack of public health infrastructure is an alarming ignorance from authorities, for example, Sierra Leone has a shortage of 32000 medical professionals and the USA is projected to have a shortage of 105,000 medical experts by 2030. This severely disadvantages medical professionals from providing good quality healthcare to people. Better investments in both healthcare infrastructure and medical research needs to be done on a global level. New infectious diseases can spread far and wide without barriers given the amount of global travel, governments have to collaborate globally to ensure everyone is safe because otherwise no one is.

Covid-19 is especially fatal to patients with co-morbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and chronic kidney illness amongst others. This not only affects communities with higher metabolic diseases more severely, such as in South Asia, but reveals a severe flaw in our social systems. Many of these co-morbidities are often a direct result of obesity or unhealthy diets, this tends to affect the poorer in the society. People who often have to work long hours at lower wages are often forced to consume cheaper or fast food which leads to obesity or metabolic diseases. It begs the question why is cheap food dangerous, shouldn’t society work towards changing that so that even the poorest have access to a healthy diet. The effect of obesity is apparent if we compare mortality rates in the USA and Japan, Japan is faring much better and have some of the lowest obesity rates in the world.

In conclusion, Covid-19 has not just shone a light on our health systems and organisations but on society as a whole. Covid-19 impacts different races, income levels, creeds etc. in varying ways, particularly affecting unequal communities more severely. We will combat Covid-19, but there are 1.5 million other viruses which we are oblivious to; Covid-19 is only the seventh coronavirus we are aware of. 

If we have to avoid millions of deaths and stalling of economies, we have to prepare as a society to make sure people get what they need. After we ride this tsunami we can only hope that we prepare for the next outbreak to stop it on its heels. For now – much like the builders of the Titanic who proclaimed it will never sink – our leaders proclaimed we are safe, both were very wrong.

Aniruddha Gupta

Image: Public Domain Pictures.