Not only is Covid-19 not the only disease in town, it is not even the deadliest. Over the last three and half months this virus has killed around 15,000 people in India. By contrast the country reported over 79,000 deaths due to tuberculosis last year, which roughly translates into 20,000 deaths every quarter. However the WHO estimate of TB toll is much higher at 4.4 lakh fatalities.
The country has a target for eliminating TB by 2025. But consider what causes the tragically high incidence in the first place. First, while it’s widely latent in the population, active TB infections take place as local immunity of the lung and overall immunity of the body are compromised. Exhaust particles from diesel fueled vehicles, smoking, dirty household fuels such as wood, dung, coal and kerosene, high particulate matter in the air in general, all contribute to compromised lung functioning. Second, misuse of antibiotics causes drug resistant TB. Third, inadequate healthcare infrastructure is often unable to see patients through the full course of treatment, so they stop medication before they should.
Now consider that the health infrastructure is stretched even thinner today. Even essential immunization services for children are falling through the cracks. The longer the Covid crisis continues the worse this challenge will become. But the TB numbers are a reminder to keep an eye on the larger picture. This means holding tight to the long term goal of a cleaner environment. More immediately, hospitals and healthcare systems cannot focus on Covid at the expense of other deadly diseases.