Coronavirus

Covidization Of Healthcare Leaves Other Diseases Untreated

'Covidization' of healthcare systems worldwide has led to rising mortality rates in pathologies like cancer, and more births in the Third World.

A doctor in Madrid
Jorge Alcalde

MADRID — COVID-19 is killing people even without the virus.

Spain's Lung Cancer Group, a research body, believes lung cancer will have killed 1,300 people more in the country in 2020 than predictive models had anticipated before the pandemic struck. Between January and April this year, lockdowns and diverted healthcare resources meant 30% fewer initial oncology consultations than during those months in 2019.

This is just one of the many pathologies with significantly worse data for what many are calling a "covidization" of healthcare. It means that a near-exclusive focus on the coronavirus is impeding treatments, diagnoses and research in many other illnesses.

Covidization is a term coined by Madhukar Pai, a tuberculosis researcher at Montreal's McGill University to describe the pandemic's distorting effect on resource allocation, prioritization and media attention in fighting other pathologies. Data appear to have confirmed his opinion. Since April this year, the European Commission has devoted 137 million euros to research on the coronavirus, or twice all the monies spent in 2018 on tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. Many researchers have felt the impact of changed priorities first-hand.

In a debate organized by the National Center for Oncological Research, Doctor Luis Paz-Ares, head of Medical Oncology at the 12 October University Hospital in Madrid, said that for months, hospital research has been devoted almost entirely to the coronavirus. "We have had to delay clinical trials, and at certain times the number of diagnoses dropped by as much as half," he said. "We must recover the lost ground."

The Spanish Anti-Cancer Society has gauged just how much ground was lost, revealing in a recent webinar that new cancer diagnoses have fallen by 20-25%, 36.5% of treatments had to be interrupted, 44% of surgeries were canceled or delayed, and 17% of radiotherapy treatments interrupted.

The medical review The Lancet has published a report in June on the impact of this diversion of resources to cancer survival rates in the United Kingdom. For the first time in recent history, cancer patients saw a drop in their chances of being cured, based on data for 32,583 patients with breast, colon, esophagus and lung tumors.

Five-year mortality from breast cancer is estimated to have increased by 7-9%, 15% for colon cancer, 5% for lung cancer and 6% for esophagus. The study concludes that this significant rise in expected cancer deaths for the pandemic can be rectified with ambitious mitigation policies.

AIDS is another illness affected by this change of paradigm. The Lancet"s latest editorial made it clear: the pandemic has strained healthcare systems the world over, and in regions where AIDS is most prevalent, it is causing important interruptions in diagnosis and treatment. This could raise HIV mortality rates by 10% over five years.

A "day against breast cancer" event in Malaga, Spain — Photo: Lorenzo Carnero/ZUMA

The HIV Modelling Consortium estimates that sub-Saharan Africa will see 296,000 more deaths from AIDS in 2021 than previously expected. UNAIDS believes in turn that a six-month interruption for six months in HIV mother-to-child transmission prevention programs can mean a 40% rise in child infection rates in the poorest countries.

Yet UNAIDS mitigated its pessimistic prognoses in recent weeks, stating that novel transport and distribution systems for therapies and medical attention may cut HIV transmission and mortality rates early in 2021.

It's the biggest impact on life expectancy since the 1918 pandemic and World War II.

The pandemic has also had an impact on assisted fertility treatments in Spain. The state of emergency decree on March 14, 2020 paralyzed the activities of all fertility centers, where only treatments already begun could be completed. Embryo transfers and new patients were blocked until centers were reopened a month later.

Joaquín Rueda, professor of cell biology at the Miguel Hernández University in Elche says the country expects "between 4,000 and 8,000 fewer births from assisted reproduction than last year."

In July, Science magazine published a projection of the effects of the pandemic on life expectancy and birth rates. In parts of northern Italy worst hit by the virus, life expectancy is expected to fall between 1.1 and 2.5 years in women, and around 3.5 years in men. This is the biggest impact on life expectancy in those regions since the 1918 pandemic and World War II.

The evolution of birth rates differs however in line with the wealth of countries. As Professor Rueda explains, countries with higher living standards have seen accelerated changes in the work-domestic life balance during the pandemic, reduced family incomes and economic uncertainty, and the aforementioned paralysis in fertility treatments. These will lead to a net fall in birth rates next year. In poorer countries however, reduced access to contraception are already yielding more births. Thus, says Rueda: "the big demographic gap between the rich world and the poor world will grow due to the pandemic."

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ