IASbhai Editorial Hunt
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EDITORIAL 65:“India’s disease surveillance system needs a reboot“
SOURCES: THE HINDU EDITORIAL/EDITORIALS FOR UPSC CSE MAINS 2020
Maya John teaches in Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi, and is working on the history of epidemics and epidemiology
India’s disease surveillance system needs a reboot
There is enough reason to fear a combination of COVID-19 with existing illnesses and medical complications in India
SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 3:Diseases
Diseases are being selectively discovered and have the propensity to be identified as an epidemic when they have a signalling effect for the scientific community.Critically comment -(GS 3)
This article criticizes public health care system in depth . It compares rich vs poor . Science vs Poverty etc.
- Evidently, we have reason to fear the novel coronavirus for which we have no established cure.
- However, there is even more reason to fear a combination of COVID-19 with existing illnesses and medical complications.
- The disease is lethal for those with compromised immunity brought on by age, existing respiratory infections, or essentially, malnutrition.
- In technical medical terms, this is a situation of comorbidity, which in ways makes it difficult to differentiate between dying of COVID-19, or, dying with COVID-19.
ISSUE OF DISEASE WATCH :
- In comparison to many western countries combating the disease, India appears to have the advantage of a relatively young population.
- This is, of course, negated by the poor health conditions of the vast majority of Indians.
- Unfortunately, the recent experiences of the public health-care system in India indicate the side-stepping of precisely this issue.
- There are many among the poor who are battling various diseases but now have little access to major public hospitals in the wake of the lockdown.
- Routine functioning, particularly of out-patient department services in public hospitals, has been severely affected, and largely, emergency cases are being entertained.
- Patients now complain of even greater high-handedness of hospital staff in the still functioning emergency intensive care unit, labour rooms, tuberculosis (TB) wards, etc.
- Ironically, cardiology and neurology departments that cater to elderly sick patients are turning away many in the bid to streamline “critical” cases.
- Many of the adverse medical conditions prevalent among the vast majority of our country are not even identified due to the lax disease surveillance system.
SILENT EPIDEMICS :
POVERTY IS A CURSE :
- Certain of these undifferentiated illnesses are known to affect lakhs of people every year worldwide.
- They claim many lives, especially of the poor who are victims of low immunity and have limited access to health care.
- Likewise, Acute Lower Respiratory Tract Infection (ALRTI), which affects mostly children below the age of five years, has been known to infect approximately 3.40 crore people every year worldwide.
- Shockingly, 99% of these deaths are reported from developing countries, and India has a larger share in it.
- The large number of hospitalisations, enormous deaths and suffering caused by contagious undifferentiated diseases indicate the prevalence of persistent but undeclared silent epidemics.
DISEASE VS SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH :
- ATTENTION : Even if the definitive cause of an illness is identified, it does not necessarily gain the focused attention of scientific research.
- TRACKING : As the disease evolves but “interest” in it remains fleeting, the differences developing in the sub-groups, strains in genotype of the pathogen concerned fail to be consistently tracked.
- WISDOM : Knowledge of the pathogen, and, consequently, the required disease control soon lag behind.
SELECTIVE APPROACH FOR DISEASES:
- PROFITS FROM DISEASES : This overall process is due to the selective, biased approach of mainstream scientific research that is driven by the profits of private pharmaceutical companies, and is the fallout of the lack of priority that governments assign to general health care and diseases of the poor.
- RESPONSE AFTER IDENTIFICATION :Even when the identity of a contagious disease and its treatment are well known it does not mean that the disease’s prevalence will generate the necessary reaction.
- HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS : This indicates that TB has a R0 value (basic reproduction number) and fatality rate that is way higher than those attributed to COVID-19 so far.
- LOW ATTENTION : However, it is important to note that TB and many other contagious diseases are ignored as “ordinary”, and elicit very low attention.
- In contrast, some diseases are quickly identified as epidemics of greater public concern.
LETHAL THREAT :
- In a majority of instances, it is only when there is a threat of transmission to the well-to-do sections of society or wealthier regions that the disease actually has such a signalling effect.
- It is not a coincidence that a relatively downplayed disease such as TB is largely a poor man’s disease.
- Clearly, we are confronted by a skewed relationship between our ways of knowing (social epistemology) and epidemiology.
- It is precisely in this context that COVID-19 has gained singular prominence over several other lethal diseases.
- Importantly, pre-existing diseases have the potential to combine with COVID-19, and with devastating consequences.
- It becomes imperative to identify the comparative fatality rates of many of the silent epidemics, which in their own right require urgent attention.