1 Mn Indian Children Miss BCG Shots as COVID Slows Health Services

Data shows COVID-19 led to decline in child vaccinations, treatment of serious diseases and other health services.

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1 Mn Indian Children Miss BCG Shots as COVID Slows Health Services
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The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted health care services across India massively. New data from the National Health Mission (NHM) shows that the pandemic and the consequent lockdowns led to a decline in the vaccinations of children, treatment of serious diseases and other health services.

NHM's Health Management Information System published a report this week about the performance of health services in the months of April, May and June, which is based on indicators on utilisation of health services from over 200,000 health facilities, in every district of the country.


Child Immunisation Worst Hit

According to CNBC-TV18, the report suggests that child immunisation programs have been the worst hit, which if not restored, could have potentially lifelong impacts on children.

Nearly one million fewer children received the BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) vaccine, which prevents severe tuberculosis. In April half the number of children received the BCG vaccination as compared to January.

With Oral Polio dropping by 39 percent in April as against January, six lakh children have missed their first dose of oral polio vaccine.

The data also shows that nearly 1.4 million children missed their Pentavalent shot that could protect them from five deadly diseases (meningitis, pneumonia, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and diphtheria).

The Indian Express had also reported in July 2020 that Pune Municipal Corporation saw child vaccinations drop to less than 50 percent of the immunisation targets set for April-May.

The drop in vaccination was a result of the lesser number of functioning dispensaries. Only 30 out of the 70 dispensaries could provide routine immunisation activities, as the rest were engaged in providing COVID health services.


Health Services Saw A Sharp Decline

According to Business Standard, the NHM data also shows 69 million fewer outpatient visits, dropping the outpatient attendance in April to half of the January levels.

The outpatient visits cater to serious diseases like cancer and acute heart disease. Critical ailment OPDs remained unavailable till June, according to the data.

Experts warn that decline in visits can be dangerous to the health of the patient.

“What we are already seeing is that when patients start to return to OPDs, they will have a much more dangerous and unmanaged form of the disease they were suffering from.”
SP Kalantri, medical superintendent at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences in Wardha.

The number of surgeries also halved in April as compared to January, with a 82% drop in elective surgeries.

How Did The Women Health Services Fare?

Women health care services were also disrupted with institutional deliveries reducing by 35 percent in the month of April versus March 2020.

“The covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown has had a profound impact on women’s access to essential health services. The lack of agency among women to exercise their reproductive choices, inadequate access to health services as well as regressive social norms which often prevent women from accessing and negotiating contraception have been a pre covid-19 problem, which are at risk of being exacerbated as a result of the pandemic," Poonam Muttreja, executive director at Population Foundation of India, told LiveMint.


Inpatient treatment also declined by 62 percent from the January levels, and 60 percent for serious diseases like COPD, asthma, respiratory infections and tuberculosis.

According to Business Standard, the decline was greater among women than men.

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