Fear of Covid-19 infection at hospitals could lead to lifestyle ailments crisis

Hospitals need to communicate their safety protocols, and the risk of delaying testing and diagnosis of lifestyle ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, heart issues and obesity, to avoid a catastrophe-in-waiting

Preetha Reddy
Updated: Aug 31, 2020 02:35:39 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Panic has, unfortunately, been the byword for 2020. Faced with the unprecedented health crisis that Covid-19 unleashed on us all, life as we know has been completely disrupted. Nothing is as it was. The far-reaching impact of the pandemic is changing the contours of every industry, in every corner of the world.

Healthcare has been at the epicentre of this change. Covid-19 has put pressure on the sector like never before. In addition to the enormous demands of fighting the pandemic, there has also been an unexpected effect—it has made people wary of visiting hospitals over fears of contracting the disease.

For a hospital, infection control is a vital focus area. Tackling and containing Healthcare Acquired Infection (HCAI) was a priority before the pandemic and will continue to a focus way even after Covid-19 is contained. Every accredited hospital would have a series of best-practices and a detailed infection-control policy.

But in the face of the wide-spread fear, fuelled continuously by increasing cases and minute-to-minute reportage, this apprehension is a natural human reaction. A consequence of this fear among people, however, could put further stress on the already strained healthcare system in the country, as lifestyle diseases might see a spurt in the coming months. By choosing not to visit hospitals to get themselves screened over fears of contracting coronavirus, people could unwittingly make themselves susceptible to lifestyle ailments such as obesity, diabetes, cardiac issues, hypertension etc. COVID-19 has disrupted life like no other disease in modern times, but it is also a fact that lifestyle ailments cause more fatalities and are also economic disruptors.

The saying “prevention is better than cure” is most apt in case of lifestyle ailments like obesity, Type II diabetes, heart diseases, high blood pressure, cancer and stroke. People have to take responsibility for their well-being against such diseases, and that can only be done by lifestyle modifications as guided by medical professionals after preventive health screening.

Coronavirus is going to be an unwelcome part of our lives for some time now, but hospitals must effectively communicate that while it is important to take appropriate safety measures to keep Covid-19 at bay, it is just as crucial to not delay getting tested for lifestyle diseases. The main causes of lifestyle diseases are poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking, drug abuse, excessive alcohol consumption, pollution and stress. Covid-19 has also resulted in people becoming increasingly stressed because of layoffs, salary cuts, and general worries about how the pandemic could disrupt their lives.

The need for early detection and management of lifestyle diseases is amplified by alarming statistics:

  • According to the National Family Health Survey, India has the second highest obese population with 155 million
  • Over 50 million people in India suffer from heart-related issues. This is the highest of any country in the world
  • Nearly 98 million people in India may have type 2 diabetes by 2030, according to a study published in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal in 2018
  • Over 100 million Indians suffer from high blood pressure
  • India has over 2 million registered cancer patients

Hospitals should indicate whether they are an exclusive or partial Covid-19 facility. If a hospital is a partial Covid-19 facility, there should be clear signage to indicate that separate entrances, staff and respiratory units are being used for patients affected by the pandemic.

Appointments should also be re-confirmed with individuals and should be staggered in a manner to ensure there is no overcrowding in any part of the hospital.

Hospitals should have facilities for temperature checks and Covid-19 testing/screening at their entrances.

There should also be enough hand sanitisers placed across each section and floor as well as provision of masks for the public. Social distancing should be strictly practiced with clear markings on the floor and also between the seats.

Collective co-operation has helped people across the world overcome challenges, natural disasters, diseases and pandemics; and while Covid-19 is a curve-ball like no other in modern times, it should not be allowed to dictate and determine attitudes either towards one’s health or about visiting hospitals, when necessary.

In summary, as an industry, it is vital that we communicate two crucial facts. The first being that hospitals are safe if protocols are followed, and the second being that the cost of delaying the detection and cure of lifestyle disease will have a catastrophic effect. Ultimately, we must appeal to the rational mind to trust the expertise of hospitals to contain the risk of infection rather than face the aggravated health risk of exposure to serious ailments. Coronavirus has presented a lot of challenges, but an increase in lifestyle diseases, does not necessarily have to be one of its consequences.

The writer is President NATHEALTH & Vice Chairperson of Apollo Hospitals

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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