The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed grave concerns of the novel coronavirus spreading throughout countries whose health systems and underfunded hospitals that are incapable of dealing with the threat.
The novel coronavirus outbreak – which made landfall in India in recent weeks – has continued to grow by leaps and bounds in both China and beyond, spreading across borders in what could potentially become a pandemic-level threat. In India, the third confirmed case of the disease has been confirmed in the state of Kerala which subsequently declared a state of emergency.
India’s public hospitals are both overcrowded and underfunded, in urban and rural areas alike. Such a state of affairs presents an opportunity for a large-scale outbreak to completely overwhelm the local health system, risking further infection and for diseases such as coronavirus to continue spreading unchecked.
India spends the equivalent of approximately US$15 per person on health, one of the lowest rates of per capita spending in the region, according to The Telegraph. This has left many public hospitals in situations where numerous individuals are left on stretchers on the floor. It is these hospitals that are to become the first line of defence against a potential epidemic if the novel coronavirus begins to take hold in India.
“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
If the coronavirus does take hold in India, a precedent has already been set that surveillance systems are likely to be subpar. India’s malaria surveillance system ranks among the worst in the world according to the WHO World Malaria Report 2017. Documented within the report is a claim that the surveillance system uncovers only eight percent of all malaria cases within the country.
Kala-azar echoes this situation. Due to sporadic and inefficient surveillance of the disease, outbreaks still occur regularly across any areas where sandflies are a regular occurrence. Due to the fact that an untreated person may continue to pass on kala-azar via sandfly bites for many years after symptoms end, it is incredibly difficult to be sure resurgence will not occur.
If the novel coronavirus does indeed take hold in India, and disease incidence increases rapidly as has been the case in China, India’s public hospitals may face a tide of individuals seeking to avail treatment. Precautionary measures must be put in place if India is to cope with the strain of a new infectious disease outbreak.