Amid Covid-19 outbreak, Sewri TB Hospital in Mumbai sees drop in patients visiting OPD
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of tuberculosis patients visiting the outpatient department (OPD) at Sewri TB Hospital, the largest TB facility in India, dropped to 562 in July, from 1,418 in January. The number of admitted patients, too, dropped to 216 last month, from 493 patients in January.
Every year, on an average, over 5,000 people die of TB in Mumbai, according to the civic body’s data. Similar to Covid-19, TB affects the lungs, is highly infectious and spreads when an individual with active disease coughs or sneezes and expelled droplets that contain TB bacteria are inhaled by another person. With every undiagnosed case, the chance of spread increases. Despite the severity, detection of new cases has drastically reduced since March, when the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Mumbai, claim activists, adding all efforts are directed towards containing Covid-19.
Doctors, however, said TB cases have declined due to social distancing norms. Activists alleged inaccessibility of drugs and lack of transportation to reach the hospital prevent many patients from following-up. They said irregular treatment can lead to a spike in TB cases post the pandemic. “Patients with drug-resistant TB suffer the most. These patients need to take injections regularly. Sometimes either drugs aren’t available or medicos aren’t available to administer it,” said Ganesh Acharya, a TB activist. “One can’t expect all TB patients to travel in a bus to reach a hospital. Trains are running only for government employees and essential service staff. If patients lose out on their medicines, they not only fall behind their regime, but also develop further health complications.”
Poornima Nair, director (health) at a non-government organisation, Apnalaya in Govandi, which is home to the highest number of drug-resistant TB cases, said, “There are possibilities that many individuals with active Mycobacterium (the bacteria that causes TB) may go unidentified as they aren’t visiting hospitals for check-ups. NGOs along with the civic bodies are trying to give the drugs at their doorstep.”
Doctors give other reasons. “Due to Covid-19, people are taking all kinds of precautions like wearing masks and maintaining social distance. How will new people get infected with the bacteria of TB,” asked Dr Deepak Baid, president, Association of Medical Consultants, who works at the Covid ward of Rajawadi Hospital.
A senior health officer from BMC on condition of anonymity said, “Through anganwadi and social workers, we are following up with patients daily. Instead of providing dosage for one month, we have given drugs for two months, so patients don’t have to visit health centres often.”
Dr Salil Bendre, head, pulmonary medicine, Nanavati Hospital, said despite restrictions during the lockdown, patients have been allowed to visit hospitals for treatment. “Even though many hospitals are being converted into dedicated Covid hospitals, there are several other medicine centres where TB patients are being treated. It would be wrong to say that TB treatment has been affected due to Covid-19,” he said.