Health Matters | Here, for the healthcare highs and lows 

This week in health: a drug-resistant fungus, a silver bullet for type 2 diabetes and the myth of ‘safe’ alcohol consumption.

Updated - July 12, 2023 09:59 am IST

Published - July 11, 2023 12:59 pm IST

Image of COVID-19 tests for representational purpose only.

Image of COVID-19 tests for representational purpose only. | Photo Credit: PTI

(In the weekly Health Matters newsletter, Ramya Kannan writes about getting to good health, and staying there. You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox.)

If we are lucky, it is a mixed bag at the health desk. Assaulted by stories of resurgence of diseases, or emergence of newer pathogen, and buffeted by questions of access to quality health care, we are irrevocably revived by some good news, some development, a reduction in the number of cases, a government scheme that will go an extra mile to take health care to the people. If multiple news items weigh us down, there’s also the good news that gives us a fair bit of weightlessness from time to time, and we celebrate that, even while calling for a continued unflagging vigil. Prime among that kind of news this week is the World Health Organisation’s declaration that the South East Asian region had a 69% decrease in number of new COVID-19 cases from June 5 to July 2, as compared to the previous 28-day period. 

In its latest epidemiological update, the WHO also recorded that the number of deaths had also decreased by 55% in the same period. As per the Union Health Ministry data, India recorded 24 new coronavirus infections on July 10, the lowest since March 2020, when the number hit two digits and started climbing with the speed of a bat out of hell. The number of tests have, naturally, come down, given the epidemic has entered an endemic stage, but the surveillance systems built up over two years need to be robust enough to pick up cues if the cases were to surge again. 

It is also good news that the Ayushman Bharat scheme is to see its biggest expansion of services since its inception five years ago. Now a network of more than 1.60 lakhs health and wellness centres and a footfall of over 178.87 crore people, (as of June end), it will now offer more services, Health Ministry officials claimed. Under the latest expansion spree, the Central Government is proposing to add services, including screening, prevention, control and management of non-communicable diseases, care for common ophthalmic and ENT problems, basic oral health care, elderly and palliative health care services, emergency medical services, and screening and management of mental health ailments. That’s one step closer to making sure quality health care is available to the people. 

When the world seems to be obsessing about weight loss and weight gain, and considering the actual impact obesity and overweight have on metabolic disorders, this comes as a literal silver bullet. Semaglutide, a formulation initially developed for diabetes treatment, has shown remarkable effects on lowering body weight. Studies using semaglutide for persons who do not have type 2 diabetes have shown substantial gains in terms of weight loss. 

For anyone who has suffered from crippling migraines, this must be good news. While treatment options and technology have enhanced the ways in which one can manage the blinding pain and lack of well-being during an episode of migraine, take courage from the fact that doctors and researchers have teased the ailment to reveal its multiple facets, and we probably know more than we ever had about migraines. 

Even as India has been struggling with controlling anaemia and employing several measures to try and increase blood haemoglobin content among its adolescents, there have been challenges to the measurement and what must constitute normal readings itself. In this context, nutritionists and gynaecologists have stressed that no dilution of standards would be acceptable, given the solid link between anaemia and maternal and child health. A massive study of over 10,000 women in low- and middle-income countries showed that greater the levels of anaemia, higher were the chances that the pregnant woman suffers postpartum bleeding after a vaginal delivery. 

After intensivists wrote to the government seeking emergency use authorisation for antibiotics under development to save precious lives last week, this week, community and health organisations and patient groups sought immediate revision of Biosimilar Guideline (2016) to facilitate access to quality biosimilars at an affordable price. A biosimilar is a medicine that is very close in structure and function to a biologic medicine, and is a safe and effective treatment option for many illnesses. They are priced lower and provide a swathe of patients access to lifesaving medicines, otherwise out of their reach. 

Staying on drug resistance, there are worrying signs after a drug-resistant fungus, Candida auris, identified as a global threat, was found in hospitalised stray dogs in Delhi. Memories of the panic around identifying the New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase -1, re-dubbed NDM-1, which refers to a protein that some bacteria contain that make them highly resistant to the strongest antibiotics. In this cases, scientists from Delhi University and the Canadian McMaster University isolated live C. auris culture 4 of the 87 dogs. They did state that transmission between species was yet to be studied.

For some, this might be a sinker, but doctors argue that there is no good in moderate consumption of alcohol. The tales of the so-called ameliorative effects of alcohol on heart health we’ve been fed with came from a study done way back in 1926. Any amount of alcohol damages the brain cells and reduces brain volume, the benefits gained from moderate drinking also correlated to a better healthy lifestyle. And even among people with modest alcohol use who gained one whole year in their lifetime but the gain of one year by modest drinking was erased by a two-fourfold increase in head and neck cancer and a large loss of life expectancy and loss of nearly seven years if drinking was “more than modest.”

On the question of much-needed regulation, India is on course to introduce regulations governing all the medical devices in the country on October 1, according to the Drugs Controller General of India, Rajeev Singh Raghuvanshi. He added that while Class A and B medical devices are at present being regulated, from October 1, regulations will be in place for the remaining medical devices, categorised under two more groups. Meanwhile, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-backed Laghu Udyog Bharati, representing over 300 micro and small industries across India, effected a flip-flop when it said the Union Government’s risk-based inspections on pharma companies were draconian, and then withdrew the letter, stating it was meant to be for internal discussions. 

From the Health pages

Have more than a moment? Do check out the following stories we have for you this week:

Vaping taps on the vulnerabilities of the youth.

Do you know enough about sleep to take this quiz?

An Indian molecular biologist in the U.S. starts new initiative for young women with breast cancer. 

A new set of operational guidelines, issued by the government, limit the focus of palliative care in India to people with cancer.

Are the billions spent on cancer research really well spent?

As always, do put us on your radar, as we bring more health content your way. Get more of The Hindu’s health coverage here.

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