Gujarat's faux pas on Zika criminal

The Gujarat government made a serious mistake when it kept the lid on the discovery of three cases of Zika virus infection in Ahmedabad in 2016 and early this year. These were the first Zika cases to be seen in India, which was initially reported in Brazil in 2015 and has since spread quickly to 60 other countries. It is among the latest threats to public health and there is a worldwide alert about it. The Gujarat government did not take the alert seriously and hid the information from the public. It informed the World Health Organisation (WHO) about the cases only two weeks ago. People in India came to know about it only when the WHO reported the matter in its website last week. No convincing explanation has come forth from the government for its lapse. It is criminal if it kept the matter a secret because of the Vibrant Gujarat summit which had international participation.

The Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. Infected persons can also sexually transmit it to other persons. Since it takes time for the symptoms to appear, it is important to quarantine affected persons and map the areas where the infection was found. The virus can lead to paralysis in adults and cause serious birth defects in babies born of infected pregnant women. According to reports, human and mosquito samples were tested for the presence of the virus but it is not known whether the person who brought the infection to the country was identified. The affected persons had not travelled out of the country. So the virus may be circulating in the area where the infections were found. The heath authorities should have made the information public and undertaken awareness and education campaigns about the infection. People should have been advised about preventive measures to be taken.

Keeping such information under wraps increases the chances for the spread of the epidemic, as seen in many other cases. It is the responsibility of public health authorities to disseminate such information without creating panic. Suppression of information is dangerous and can result in disasters. The WHO has warned that new cases may occur in future because the virus is in circulation. The authorities should reveal all relevant and necessary details about the cases identified in the country and advise people on the steps to be taken to avoid infection. This is important because there is no cure for the disease and no vaccine has been developed against it. The WHO has said that the Zika virus can lead to a global health crisis and so there should not be any laxity in dealing with it.

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