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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 25-26

Neglected Diseases in the era of COVID-19 pandemic: It's the right time to act together

1 Independent Public Health Researcher, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India
2 Independent Public Health Researcher, J and K, India

Date of Submission19-Jan-2021
Date of Decision23-Feb-2021
Date of Acceptance01-Mar-2021
Date of Web Publication09-Jun-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sheikh Mohd Saleem
Jammu and Kashmir
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jopcs.jopcs_3_21

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How to cite this article:
Bhattacharya S, Saleem SM. Neglected Diseases in the era of COVID-19 pandemic: It's the right time to act together. J Prim Care Spec 2021;2:25-6

How to cite this URL:
Bhattacharya S, Saleem SM. Neglected Diseases in the era of COVID-19 pandemic: It's the right time to act together. J Prim Care Spec [serial online] 2021 [cited 2023 Feb 4];2:25-6. Available from: https://www.jpcsonline.org/text.asp?2021/2/2/25/317997

The recently published article in the Lancet Infectious Disease titled “Tuberculosis and malaria in the age of COVID-19” is an eloquent read.[1] The article is focused on two of the three deadliest infectious diseases globally, i.e., tuberculosis and malaria. The Editor has portrayed how timely the World Health Organization (WHO) reports on tuberculosis and malaria came into existence to remind the wrath infectious diseases had put in the last century on mankind. The Editor also appreciates the progress on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which seem to be on track for malaria but expresses his concern about the slower progress for a deadly disease such as tuberculosis. However, the article stresses upon the enormous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health-care system worldwide because the targets for 2030 SDGs have been off tracked. The report also mentions the high burden countries for tuberculosis and malaria, and India seems a familiar entity to both the groups.

Soon after, the WHO declared the rising epidemic from China as a global pandemic, and it pushed the panic button among all the nations worldwide. Because of the highest infectivity and mortality associated with COVID-19 and no specific treatment, countries' political scenario changed. All health-care resources and policy briefings were diverted to mitigation and containment activities for COVID-19 specifically.[2] The Editor in the Lancet Infectious Disease article has stressed on infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. However, it is clear from the WHO's published report that almost 90% of nations all over the globe experienced a disruption in health delivery services, with more significant disruption reported from low-middle-income countries.[3] Most frequently affected health-care services included routine immunization services – outreach services (70%) and facility-based services (61%) – noncommunicable disease diagnosis and treatment (69%), family planning and contraception (68%), treatment for mental health disorders (61%), antenatal care (56%), and cancer diagnosis and treatment (55%).[3] The disruption has also been seen in rehabilitation services (63%) in countries deemed essential for health recovery following severe COVID-19 illness. The majority of nations (94%) diverted their staff working in non-communicable diseases (NCD) to support COVID-19 activities. Delaying population screening programs for detecting breast and cervical cancer were reported from 50% of countries worldwide. We witnessed 110,000 deaths caused by measles in 2017 all over the globe when immunization services were disrupted. Similarly, the vaccine disruption during an Ebola outbreak in 2014–2015 in three African countries – Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, clearly shows that with a drop of vaccination coverage from 45% to 38% during the outbreak, measles' incidence increased from 74% in 2013 to 83% in 2014 following the outbreak.[4]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, NCDs and other infectious diseases (having acute on chronic onset) are ignored. It may be because of the chronic nature of these diseases and no immediate tangible outcome; policymakers and country leaders focused more on the COVID-19 pandemic itself. Similarly, the world is witnessed to pandemics like the 2009 Swine flu when health agencies made diversion of health resources to contain the swine flu pandemic of 2009. Prior influenza pandemics of 1918, 1957, and 1968 were the eye-openers and highlighted the need for epidemic preparedness and public health capacity development. We agreed with such knee-jerk responses from the Government and policymakers if they are justifiable but not at the cost of ignoring other deadly diseases at large. Why this is happening, this may be due to the health sector allocation and policy decisions are based on the tangible outcomes as discussed earlier. However, in the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the panic among the population and the Government and policymakers was caused by the dramatization of the deaths following the COVID-19 outbreak in China.[5] Electronic and print media reported each event and death regarding COVID-19 mostly on real-time basis and pushed for safety measures at all levels.

Majorly focusing on the COVID-19, health policymakers knowingly or unknowingly have pushed a cohort of the population to the shore who are suffering from infectious diseases, neglected tropical diseases (NTD) and NCDs to face the delayed outcome or complications at the later period. The Government and policymakers in sheer pressure trying to deliver the best either in the form of a desirable treatment or a new vaccine. That is what is the current scenario with the COVID-19 pandemic.

We believe that the phenomenon of dramatization of deaths has bagged priority for COVID-19, as usual.[5] Considering some of the examples one's were ignored include death's an event achieved the primary focus while the other because of road traffic accidents (1.35 million) all over the globe in a year are enormously greater than deaths because of COVID-19, but still, the focus is on the latter.[6],[7] Similarly, any mishap which happens while managing maternal and childhood illnesses like maternal or infant death compared to severe outcomes out of NCDs attracts comprehensive media coverage and policymakers' attention. Such events often call for investigations like a verbal autopsy or maternal death reviews and seek a lot of attention from the public, media, policymakers, and Government authorities. Deaths because of COVID-19, maternal deaths, or infant deaths have a visual impact on the people and cause public outrage. The people expect their Governments to focus on events with immediate positive consequences while those with delayed outcomes are often played less attention.[8],[9]

As the vaccine for COVID-19 is out for administration and many countries have vaccinated their health-care workers, the basic reproductive number (Ro) will eventually decrease from 3 to <1 with more and more vaccinations.[1] Hence, it is the high time for the policymakers to emphasize on other infectious diseases, NTDs, and NCDs. We can set some short-term goals specifically for pandemic management/epidemic preparedness and some long-term goals for future to achieve SDGs in a timely fashion.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Tuberculosis and malaria in the age of COVID-19. Lancet Infect Dis 2021;21:1.  Back to cited text no. 1
NCD W. Final Results Rapid Assessment of Service Delivery for Noncommunicable Disease During the COVID-19 Pandemic. World Health Organization; 2020. Available from: https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/rapid-assessment-of-service-delivery-for-ncds-during-the-covid-19-pandemic. [Last cited on 2021 Mar 22].  Back to cited text no. 2
World Health Organization WHO. Pulse Survey on Continuity of Essential Health Services during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Interim Report; 27 August 2020. Available from: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-2019-nCoV-EHS_continuity-survey-2020.1. [Last accessed on 2021 Jan 06].  Back to cited text no. 3
Ghatak N, Marzo RR, Saleem SM, Sharma N, Bhattacharya S, Singh A. Impact on routine immunization services during the lockdown period in India: Implications and future recommendations. Ann Trop Med Public Heal 2020;23:35-40.  Back to cited text no. 4
Bhattacharya S, Sekhon H, Sharma N, Singh A. Exceptions of diffusion of innovation theory during COVID – 19 pandemic and health policy implications – A viewpoint. J Surg Spec Rural Pract 2020;1:3-7.  Back to cited text no. 5
  [Full text]  
Ivers R, Brown K, Norton R, Stevenson M. Road Traffic Injuries. International Encyclopedia of Public Health; 2016. p. 393-400. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-803678-5.00391-X.  Back to cited text no. 6
Bhattacharya S, Singh A. Fixing accountabilities and finding solutions to tackle acute (communicable) diseases viewed as collateral damage due to errors of omission and commission in primary care. J Family Med Prim Care 2019;8:784-7.  Back to cited text no. 7
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
Bhattacharya S, Juyal R, Hossain MM, Singh A. Non-communicable diseases viewed as “collateral damage” of our decisions: Fixing accountabilities and finding solutions in primary care settings. J Family Med Prim Care 2020;9:2176-9.  Back to cited text no. 8
  [Full text]  
Harari YN. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. 1st edition. New York: Spiegel and Grau; 2018.  Back to cited text no. 9


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