Coronavirus Maybe Responsible for An Additional 95,000 Tuberculosis Deaths in India

A recent study points towards the possibility of an additional 95,000 TB related deaths in India due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

public healthcare system in Bihar
[Representative Image ] A health care practitioner examining a child | Wikimedia Commons

The coronavirus pandemic has been having severe socio-economic implications around the world and with growing unemployment, economic and fiscal challenges and unprecedented over-burdening of the healthcare system, it has become extremely important that the world community takes cognisance of the issue both at the local as well as global levels. 

While we discuss the over-burdening of the health care system and how it has failed to adequately cope up with the crisis at hand, we cannot forget the impact of the pandemic on Tuberculosis.

In a study published recently, it has been brought to public notice that the coronavirus pandemic may lead to an additional 95,000 tuberculosis(TB) related deaths in India in the next five years. 

The main reason for this alarming death rate, is said to be a major disruption in present healthcare serves and delays in diagnosis and availability of treatment options. 

This study is of critical importance becomes it not only underlines the gravity with which an ailment such as TB haunts us even today but the kind of medical negligence and under equipped medical infrastructure that we have in the country and how it has turned out to become even more fragile during the pandemic. 

The modelling study has been published in the European Respiratory Journal. The report published in this highly revered journal raises an alarm bell for the entire global community because it reminds us of the threats that will expose TB patients to further dangers and will not allow new TB patients to be diagnosed and treated in time. The findings of the study are extremely important for a country like India, for which the report predicts an extreme threat. 

The report predicts that there could be at least 110,000 additional deaths from TB in India,China, South Africa if the healthcare infrastructure in these countries is not made strong and sufficiently widespread to deal with the burdens posed on the medical infrastructure in critical times such as these.

The research which has been carried out by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine(LSHTM)and Lancaster University, United Kingdom point out that before the pandemic set its foot in the world, more than 4,000 died per day due to TB related complications. 

The researchers predicts that with the pandemic at hand and the medical infrastructure already fragile, countries such as India, China and South Africa would become very venerable and could report a record number of TB related deaths. 

They predict that in the next five years, many more people may die because of TB, as health services are likely to become more rare due to the pandemic. They assert that the practice of social distancing may be helpful in reducing the chances of TB because the bacteria responsible for TB is transmitted via droplets in the air, just like the coronavirus. But what is alarming is the fact that even if social distancing norms are taken quite seriously and followed religiously, even then an additional 111,000 TB deaths are expected by the researchers. In the worst case scenario, these numbers could rise to 200,000 additional deaths. 

India, China and Africa Will be Worst Hit by Growing Tuberculosis Deaths 

While TB related deaths will grow across the world, the fragile and over-worked medical infrastructure in nations like India, China and South Africa will make them more vulnerable to deaths by TB. 

The research states that by looking at the current patterns and status of medical infrastructure, it is likely that China could record over 6,000 deaths, 95,000 deaths are likely to take place in India and 13,000 deaths could take place in South Africa. 

The research underlines the reality that due to an overburdened healthcare infrastructure and poor record of tracing and treating TB patients, these countries could become the worst victims in the coming years.  

This holds true for almost all middle income countries where medical facilities have been severely affected due to coronavirus pandemic. 

In fact, it is not surprising that these three countries make up for 40% of the global TB deaths. Moreover, with social distancing becoming difficult in heavily populated countries, disrupted healthcare services and reduction in efforts to reach out to TB suspects, there could be an increase in the number of TB deaths.

The present research suggests that there is an urgent need for these countries to take note of the gravity of the problem and develop a thorough and grounded TB care approach that works efficiently irrespective of the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

This alone can ensure that the hard won gains of the last few decades are not lost to the pandemic. 

It will be a vital challenge before the state to strengthen, amplify and democratise TB related health care services during and after the pandemic is over.