The attention may be on COVID-19, especially with cases surging again after one year of lockdowns and quarantines, but it is not the top disease that killed Filipinos last year.
Six other diseases beat COVID as the primary cause of death of more people in 2020, while the number of registered deaths resulting from those diseases also increased year on year. These rising deaths are a symptom of the massive strain on our health care systems during this unprecedented pandemic.
“The lack of clinic check-ups, the lack of attendance of doctors, because they too cannot go to work, created right now a scenario in which cardiovascular disorders are increasing,” said Anthony Leachon, an infectious disease doctor and former adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19.
Ischaemic heart diseases were the leading cause of death for the second year in a row, killing 99,680 people last year. Mortality from the disease went up 2.3 percent year on year. Neoplasms or tumors as well as cerebrovascular diseases were ranked second and third respectively. 37,265 deaths due to diabetes mellitus put it in fourth place, followed by deaths from hypertensive diseases, probably due to more Filipinos being forced to become stationary in their homes for most of an entire year.
The grim statistics prompted the Coalition of People’s Right to Health to lament the “covidization” of healthcare, arguing that while COVID-19 remains a serious concern, other diseases should not be sidelined. In the past year, many patients were unable to receive proper follow-up for monitoring and treatment and this could have contributed to more deaths indirectly caused by the pandemic.
The past year has shown us that COVID-19 rightfully deserves our attention but before it exposed the many vulnerabilities of health care systems all over the globe, these preventable and treatable diseases have already been affecting the lives and even killing thousands. We cannot afford to continue sidelining these diseases as we struggle monumentally to control the coronavirus.
The COVID-19 surge currently engulfing the country spells bad news for everyone. Those whose regular checkups and treatments have already been delayed in the past year are going to suffer even more unless our healthcare system finds creative ways and means to address these other killer diseases that have been plaguing people for decades.*