H1N1: Health dept looks flu-stricken

RGICD left with only 100 tablets; Sriramulu misses awareness rally

 Enquiries revealed there is a severe shortage in medication stockpiles, the main hospital, where eight confirmed cases are under surveillance, is fast running out of the drug, there has been no improvement in monitoring, and there are not enough trained doctors and para-medics to tackle the situation.

To top it all, the State health minister B Sriramulu has shown complete apathy towards the disease: He did not turn up for a ‘health rally against swine flu’ that was to begin at the Press Club, near Cubbon Park, and terminate at the Victoria statue on Saturday.

Instead of being transparent, the health department has chosen to downplay the seriousness of the situation by claiming that the patients being treated at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (RGICD) are ‘suspected’ to have the H1N1 virus although these are full-blown cases with the potential to spread the contagious virus. Officials are also wary of admitting that a senior health department officer's son, who arrived from Seattle on Friday with strong swine flu symptoms, has tested positive for H1N1.

Repeated calls to the official’s mobile phone failed to elicit a response. While there should be preparations for the worst, the health department has turned a deaf ear to requisitions from the RGICD, which has taken the lead role in treating H1N1 positive patients, to supplement Tamiflu, the anti-swine flu medicine.

Health department sources disclosed that as of Saturday the RGICD was left with barely 100 Tamiflu tablets even as the number of confirmed cases saw an upswing since last Saturday. In fact, the sources revealed that, only 400 tablets were handed out to RGICD on Saturday when the first confirmed swine flu case was reported in the City.

Responding to Deccan Herald’s queries, health department director Dr Usha Vasunkar said: “There is no shortage of supply. We have received 10,000 tablets from the central government.” 

According to sources, the RGICD, acting in tandem with the Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV), where the confirmatory tests are carried out, has sound diagnostic capabilities. “But what RGICD lacks is enough doctors and para-medics to treat the growing number of swine flu-positive cases. We have asked health department officials to strengthen the staff even after two doctors and two para-medics were drafted from other city hospitals,” an official said. However, state health secretary Perumal said “one doctor is capable of handling 200 patients”.

The health department’s lack of seriousness is also borne out by the fact that there is little or no interaction between the doctors treating patients at RGICD and government staff responsible for tracking disease in the state and minimising the risk of contagion.
Sources said no steps have been taken so far to track the people who have come in contact with those who have tested H1N1 positive.

Asked whether the department had any contingency plans in the event of a serious outbreak, Dr Vasunkar said: “We have not thought about it yet.”

She added that her department had deputed enough staff at RGICD. While serious gaps remain in the health department’s defenses, city hospitals lack the surge capacity that might result from an epidemic.

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