Why India should prepare for COVID-19 recovered patients as ‘next big health crisis’

A recent study says besides other long-term health risks, patients face higher chance of death even after six months of recovery  

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 28 April 2021
फोटो: विकास चौधरी__

With more than 14.3 million patients who have recovered from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) (as of April 25), India is yet to mount a robust surveillance on their wellbeing. Even though it is eminently clear that the impacts of the infection linger longer than earlier it was believed to be.

This group of population is one of the largest such groups recovering an infectious disease, that also from a novel coronavirus.

In the last week of July, as Down To Earth reported, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare asked its Joint Monitoring Group to evolve guidelines on managing long-term complications arising out of COVID-19. This group advises the ministry on responses to various health events.

The government follows a protocol on how, and at what stage, to discharge a COVID-19-positive person, and when to recommend treatment at home or in hospitals. India follows the World Health Organization (WHO) protocol on this. But there is no established protocol to mount health surveillance on recovered people.

In September 2020, the Centre came out with a protocol of practices for recovered patients. This only deal with a set of advises for patients that include proper diets and exercises to boost immunity.

Down To Earth spoke last August to a large number of COVID-19-recovered patients, whose recovery ranged from four-six months. Most them grappled with wide range of post-recovery effects like lungs dysfunction and panic attacks.

COVID-19 symptoms continue for months; worse, the risk of death is aggravated for up to six months after infection for 59 per cent patients, a recent study published in journal Nature claimed.

The study — conducted by Ziyad Al-Aly, Yan Xie and Benjamin Bowe of Clinical Epidemiology Center, Research and Development Service, Virginia and Saint Louis Health Care System of the United States — examined more than 87,000 COVID-19 patients in that country.

Deaths caused by long-term impacts of COVID-19 are not attributed to this infection directly. But going by this new research finding, there were “eight extra deaths per 1,000 patients over six months”.

“Among patients who were hospitalized and died after more than 30 days, there were 29 excess deaths per 1,000 patients over six months.”

“As far as total pandemic death toll, these numbers suggest that the deaths we’re counting due to the immediate viral infection are only the tip of the iceberg,” said Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, the senior author of the study, in a press statement. Al-Aly termed this as the “America’s next big health crisis”.

“Given that more than 30 million Americans have been infected with this virus, and given that the burden of long COVID-19 is substantial, the lingering effects of this disease will reverberate for many years and even decades,” he was quoted saying.

By April 26 evening, India had 17.3 million COVID-19 infected cases. As already widely reported, thousands of recovered patients continue to report fatigues, panic attacks, lungs infection and host of other ailments. While India is currently struggling to cope with the resurgence with an over stretched healthcare infrastructure, the recovered patients could it its “next big health crisis” as Al-Aly has termed for the US.  

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