At the beginning of the year, the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM) realized that, throughout 2020, around 20% fewer cancers had been diagnosed in the country. This was a problem because there was no reason to think that the real incidence of cancer in Spain had dropped; I mean, it was a problem because one in five cases were undiagnosed with the consequent “a negative impact on survival and palliation” of the disease.

We are talking about 30,000 people and, unfortunately, it is not a phenomenon restricted to cancer. Neither heart disease, diabetes, nor hypertension disappeared with the arrival of the pandemic; but the fear of contagion, mobility restrictions and the interruption (total or partial) of health services made it seem so. These and many other diseases simply disappeared from hospitals and health centers.

As well: now they are back.

A brief review of what COVID hid

Olga Kononenko Zqemeab Wpy Unsplash

Olga Kononenko

As early as June 2020, the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) conducted an extensive survey in more than a hundred countries and found that 78.8% of hospitals detected a reduction in the number of patients with myocardial infarction. In Spain, specifically, the figures fell by almost half. The statistic is already creepy because it makes us wonder what happened to all those patients who didn’t make it to the emergency room door. But it gets worse if we take a look at those who did.

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60% of heart attacks reached hospitals later than usual. In ailments of this type that are extremely sensitive to the promptness of the treatment, this triggered (always according to the ESC data) a reduction in the possibilities of effectively treating the patients. However, it is not just a matter of emergency treatment.

For months, many hospitals around the world only operated under strict criteria of urgency. And sometimes not even that. Which not only caused numerous surgeries to be delayed for months, but also many necessary surgeries will enter the operating room late. The case of appendicitis and peritonitis has received a lot of media attention, for example.

Meanwhile, due to pure hospital pressure and while professionals tried to solve it, chronic diseases took a back seat. Do not forget that in Spain there are 19 million people who suffer from a chronic disease. Namely, 40% of the general population that becomes more than 90% if we talk about older people.

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This has caused, for example, the metabolic control of diabetes has been affected negatively around 20% compared to the previous year. Something very similar has happened with neurodegenerative diseases.

Return to normal

This is nothing new. Since the summer of 2020, concern for all these pathologies has been a recurring theme. Medical societies, doctors and administrators warned of the problem. The news now is that the aftermath of all this, the complications and delays are reaching hospitals, filling many plants (pulmonology, cardio, internal medicine, etc …) and placing healthcare centers at a higher saturation level than usual.

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Moreover, it is not only that cases that we had not previously diagnosed are appearing: those cases are more serious and are added to those that also appear this year. Similar problems also arise with the chronically ill and the problems derived from the lack of control of the disease. And this is what makes us dependent on increasingly less severe coronavirus waves and the power of vaccines; the hospital system has not yet emerged from the coronavirus crisis and there are too many people whose life (and health) depends on taking no further steps.

Imagen | Adhy Savala

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