Thursday, February 26, 2015

The scourge called "Swine Flu"-Did we fail as a nation to prevent this epidemic?

Is the number of Swine Flu deaths reported in India so far really alarming? Rajasthan has already declared it as an epidemic while in other states the severity is much less. Still an average citizen in India has a few concerns about the safety for himself in spite of bland assurances from an insipid government that it does have a handle on the issue and advising him not to panic!  With the death toll mounting each day, how can the citizen be insulated from the ever blaring media reports about the dangers of Swine Flu? How can he be unconcerned about the ineffectiveness and unreliability of government promises and action when no less than the Health Minister of the country could not provide  a satisfactory answer in the Lok Sabha regarding the fate of 35 million dosses of vaccine lying with the government unutilized even when the people need them, at least in vulnerable states ;like Telengana and Rajasthan? What a tragedy! With thousands of brilliant scientists, especially in the area of pathogens-related area willing to help the government, no sincere attempt is being made to channel their skill, expertise and experience in tackling this emerging calamity. Here is a commentary on the on-going situation in the country vis-a-vis Swine Flu epidemic as obtaining now.

Surprisingly, most affected states, barring Rajasthan that has formally declared it an epidemic, are tending to underplay the threat. But the virus is displaying some distinctly odd characteristics this year, foxing experts - hinting at the need for out-of-the-box approaches. The approach of summer normally reduces the intensity of the seasonal flu infection, but has not done so this year. The other peculiarity, noticed and documented in Telangana, is that a sizable proportion of patients who have died due to swine flu belonged to the 17-40 age group. Normally, the H1N1 virus affects children and the aged more. Experts believe that the causative H1N1 virus may have either reasserted itself or mutated to develop added potency. Or, it may be turning less sensitive to anti-viral drugs. Both indications are scary and merit urgent investigation and well-crafted remedial strategies. Apart from these, the limited number of diagnostic laboratories and supply inadequacy of anti-flu drug Tamiflu or its generic version Oseltamivir are coming in the way of checking this virus. Many of the laboratories equipped to test H1N1 virus are charging as much as Rs 10,000 a test. Delhi has now capped charges to Rs 4,500, but few laboratories are observing this ceiling. The number of hospitals and chemists authorised to sell the anti-viral drug is too few to meet the growing demand. The procedure for accessing free medicines from the government outlets is cumbersome and time-consuming. With such being the ground reality, the government's response defies logic. Experts wonder why vaccination, as a preventive measure, is not even being considered although anti-flu vaccination is almost routine in many seasonal flu-endemic countries. An indigenous anti-H1N1 virus vaccine was developed by the Serum Institute of India way back in 2010, but it has remained, by and large, unused. The stocks of the vaccine produced by the institute every year during the flu season have to be destroyed for want of takers, while people are continuing to suffer due to this infection. The government has a duty to act on prevention, before this reaches epidemic status."

Recently one of the experts is reported to have said that Swine Flu would fade away with people developing what he called euphorically as "herd immunity"! This probably means that even if no corrective action is taken, people would develop immunity eventually after a few deaths! What callousness in uttering these words! Though hundreds of our law makers go on frequent foreign jaunts wasting crores of rupees through out the year, no one seems to be interested in observing and absorbing good things around them when they visit a country and behave more like carefree tourists enjoying the company of their families and friends at the expense of the public exchequer.  How they could have missed the way governments elsewhere in the world work to the benefit of their citizens whose life they value above every thing! For example in the US, every year the pathologists track the nature of virus that causes influenza, type them and prepare preventive vaccines well ahead of winter in adequate doses. At each and every public place free shots of this vaccine are given especially to vulnerable groups like children and old people. If accountability is the yardstick to measure efficiency of governance, then the present health minister may have any justification to continue in his post after bungling in this case for which country has already paid with the precious lives of almost 900 people so far!


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