COVID-19 fatalities point finger at non-communicable diseases in India

Noticeably, among the total fatalities, the most important common factor has been the medical history of hypertension, diabetes or chronic respiratory diseases

The nutritional requirement for remission of newly-diagnosed diabetes was found to be carbohydrates accounting for 49 to 54 per cent of energy consumption, proteins 19 to 20 per cent, fats 21 to 26 per cent and dietary fibers five to six per cent | Pic: iStock

With the risk of fatality in coronavirus linked to comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension and cancer, besides chronic respiratory diseases, the viral pandemic has brought to the fore the need to address non-communicable diseases (NCD) and their treatment in India.

On Saturday (March 28), a 69-year-old COVID-19 patient died in Kerala, taking the death toll to 19, amid 873 reported cases in the country.

Earlier this week, another 54-year-old person in Madurai, suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) succumbed to COVID, while undergoing treatment.

Noticeably, among the total fatalities, the most important common factor has been the medical history of hypertension, diabetes or chronic respiratory diseases.


Resonating the same, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has also noted that,‘People of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus (COVID-19). The risk of becoming severely ill with the virus appears to increase if you are 60 plus. People with pre-existing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) also appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.’

Adding on, Dr D Suresh Kumar, infectious diseases specialist, Apollo Hospitals said, while diabetes and infections like pneumonia and influenza have been known to have a link, in the case of COVID-19 a new connection between the coronavirus and hypertension has been established.

“While the risk of death due to COVID-19 is higher among diabetics by 7 per cent, a 6.5 per cent higher chance has been established for those with hypertension,” he explained.

Dr Suresh further pointed out that the classification of the different categories among those infected by COVID-19 outlines the connection with comorbidities.

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“The high-risk group is, therefore, people above 60 with comorbidities,” he inferred.

Higher risk for the elderly

Dr V Mohan, chief diabetologist, Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre said, with the current prevalence of diabetes and hypertension among the 60 years and old people, COVID-19 is a serious worry if people in that group get infected.

Explaining how coronavirus is a major concern for people over 50 years, Dr Mohan said, “If you see people above 50-55 years, you will find an average rate of prevalence of diabetes is around 45 per cent, but the rate of prediabetes also is higher at 25 per cent. Same is the case with hypertension with only a fraction of about 20 per cent of those above 60 years not having it.”

Suffering from comorbidities like diabetes also increases the chance of the body contracting fungal and bacterial infections, which aids the coronavirus in spreading faster.

That’s why, Dr Mohan said, those with any of the comorbidity should maintain distance from others, ensure they are not being exposed to an infected person through droplets Dfrom their nose or saliva.

COPD, which has a prevalence rate of up to 22 per cent, also has a 6.4 times more risk of developing severe COVID-19.

“Those with COPD, asthma and other respiratory problems are in for a double whammy as their lungs are already damaged,” he added.

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With diseases like prediabetes and hypertension catching-up with even the young people in their 20s, Dr Mohan feels, the renewed fight for a healthy country should begin with more concerted efforts towards containing NCDs.

Preventing NCDs needs more resolve

Besides cancer, a good number of diabetes and hypertension cases are preventable by adopting a healthy diet, exercise and doing breathing exercises.

Cancer too can be to some extent prevented by avoiding smoking, consumption of tobacco and related substances.

Dr Suresh opined that by following a healthy lifestyle, one can ensure healthy ageing.

“While we have life expectancy of 67 years for men and 69 years for women, the focus should be to increase the years and decrease disease burden as we age,” he said.

Dr Suresh also said that coronavirus pandemic has exposed both poor lifestyle, the unpreparedness of the world to fight off a disease of this scale.

Tips for people living with or affected by NCDs
  • 1. Continue to take your medication and follow medical advice
  • 2. Secure a one month supply of your medication or longer if possible
  • 3. Keep a distance of at least one metre from people with a cough, cold or flu
  • 4. Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • 5. Quit smoking and avoid using coping strategies involving alcohol or drugs
  • 6. Safeguard your mental health
Source: WHO