There’s something very familiar with the way swine flu news filters in from around the country. As the temperatures dip, the authorities of various states claim that the situation is under control, there is enough stock of medicine, enough laboratories to test the virus, enough wards in government hospitals to keep the victims isolated, etc. etc… ad nauseum. Despite this, news of deaths and positive cases of swine continues.
Since the 2009 pandemic, there is clearly no strategy in place to prevent the disease from spreading. At best, the state government’s initiatives can be termed as treating the victims. The problem with the swine flu H1N1 virus is that it’s becoming more and more difficult to diagnose and treat due to several viral strains that have been traced such as H1N1, H3N1 and H3N2.
Why India is more vulnerable to swine flu?
India is even more vulnerable because of its climate. While in most countries the swine flu virus makes an appearance during the winter season, in India it surfaces twice a year – during the monsoon and winter seasons. Add to that the fact, that our population density is very high, public places and transport is overcrowded and there’s utter disregard for sanitation and hygiene. There’s also a lack of awareness about the disease and many people still believe that virus spreads from pigs. The swine flu situation actually points out the deficiencies of India’s public health system.
What needs to be done?
Most public health experts argue that authorities need to do two things to contain the disease – provide vaccination for the at-risk population and make swine flu drugs more easily available to the public. Sadly, the government has turned both suggestions down. Vaccination is only given to people who are treating swine flu-infected patients and the centre ruled out universal vaccination for the time being. Also the drugs to treat the disease aren’t widely available – it’s only available at designated government hospitals and over-the-counter sales are banned. This is ostensibly done to prevent indiscriminate use which could lead to resistance against the drug.
The only forward would be to make the available remedies like Tamiflu, Relenza and others more widely available by allowing qualified medical practitioners and chemist shops to stock and dispense the anti-flu drugs and give strict instructions on their usage. Unless a step like this is taken, swine flu will remain a seasonal virus that will continue to catch our local authorities unaware and claim lives, year after year!
Also read: Swine Flu: Tips to prevent the disease