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Why treating the Black Fungus requires a comprehensive health insurance policy

Pharmacists charge Rs 8,000-10,000 for an injection. An infected patient has to take 5-6 injections a day. The treatment costs can spiral out of control without a health insurance policy

June 29, 2021 / 10:19 AM IST

India was already grappling with the second wave of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and now it is having to face another major challenge – Mucormycosis. Commonly known as the Black Fungus – a rare, but potentially fatal infection – the disease is fast spreading across the entire country. India is reporting almost over 500 cases of Black Fungus each day from different states and cities. The disease is turning out to be fatal for those recovering from COVID-19. It is mostly infecting those with high diabetes and a history of COVID-19. Adding to the misery is a recent report of the WHO. It states that even before the pandemic, rates of Mucormycosis in India were estimated to be about 70 times higher than any other country in the world.

How do you cover yourself with health insurance against this deadly disease?

Black fungus declared epidemic

Amidst the large number of COVID-19 positive cases that are being reported in the country each passing day, until now, there are over 20,000 active cases of Black Fungus, of which 100 people have already lost their lives. Mucormycosis has a fatality rate as high as 54 percent and it mostly affects people with high diabetic conditions and those recovered or recovering from the deadly coronavirus infection. Considering the daily rise in the number of Black Fungus infections, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has directed several Indian states to declare Mucormycosis as an epidemic. On the guidelines issued, currently, over 10 states have already declared Black Fungus as an epidemic. This has prompted the states and central government to stock up on the various drugs used in its treatment.

Enormous treatment costs

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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The cost of life-saving anti-fungal medicines throughout the country is high and the patients admitted in private hospitals have to shell out several lakh rupees for their treatment that stretches between four and six weeks. One such example is Raman Srivastava from Jaipur.

Raman Srivastava, 52, who recovered from COVID-19, lost his right eye to the black fungus infection. He was infected with COVID-19 in May. With moderate infection – his oxygen saturation levels were around 86 – he underwent treatment at a private hospital for almost two weeks that cost him Rs 3.5 lakh. However, within a month, his left eye started drooping and he started squinting. When he was rushed to an ophthalmologist, his MRI report revealed that he had been infected with Mucormycosis. On May 25, he was admitted to another private hospital that charged him a whopping Rs 15 lakh. Struggling to arrange for the treatment money, the family had to ask for help from relatives and friends.

What several reports state is that during pre-COVID-19 times, patients with Mucormycosis were treated at half the cost they are being charged today. This is mostly because of a shortage of medicines and hospital beds where the patients can take the required treatment. The entire media is flooded with reports that with the sudden rise in black fungus cases, there is a severe shortage of life-saving drugs and those available are expensive. Currently, pharmacists are charging Rs 8,000-10,000 for an injection. An infected patient has to take 5-6 injections a day. The treatment protocol for Black Fungus states that if the infection has reached the nose, sinus or palate of the patient’s body, doctors need to prescribe 5 mg dose per kilogram (kg) of body weight. So, if the body weight of a patient is 70 kg, he would require 350 mg of the dose, with each vial consisting of 50 mg of the drugs. In cases of moderate infection, the patient would need seven-vials – as per his/her body weight, which means costs could touch Rs 70,000 per day. Moreover, if the conditions worsen and the infection becomes severe, doctors prescribe 9-10 vials per day; the medication cost alone would be Rs 90,000-100,000 a day. The treatment is definitely expensive and is indeed burdensome for most people.

Health insurance policyholders better off

Thankfully, people covered under a comprehensive health insurance policy do not have to worry about the treatment. The entire treatment costs related to black fungus are covered under comprehensive health insurance policies. Comprehensive health insurance plans have an in-built feature that covers all types of fungal infections apart from other regular and critical illnesses. This means you do not need to buy a separate add-on or rider to avail coverage for Black fungus or any other fungal infection. If you are covered under a comprehensive health insurance policy and are infected with Mucormycosis, COVID-19 or any other ailment, you can easily raise a claim for the treatment against the specific condition. You can make a health insurance claim by sending an intimation of hospitalization to your insurer, and then locating a cashless network hospital near you.

Ideally, an individual buying a health plan must have a cover of up to Rs 20 Lakh sum insured while a family floater plan must be for Rs 1 Crore sum insured to be able to pay for the best possible treatment at your choice of hospital in any state and city.
Amit Chhabra is Head- Health & Travel Insurance, Policybazaar.com
first published: Jun 29, 2021 10:19 am