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H1N1: Sick health system exposed

THE onslaught of the H1N1 Influenza exposed the poor state of health preparedness in the State. Here’s a comprehensive look at how the system reacted to the virus and other disease outbreaks.

The outbreak of the global pandemic, the Influenza A (H1N1), brought the Indian health system to its knees, exposing the poor infrastructure and the laidback attitude of the health officials. Karnataka, with a death toll of 132, had no escape from this. Neither did Bangalore, which has so far seen 83 deaths due to the influenza.

Although the first case of the H1N1 Influenza was detected in April 2009 in Mexico, India’s first case was confirmed on May 26 in Hyderabad. Vigorous screening of passengers followed at international airports to contain the spread of the virus. However, it was not fool proof and the incubation period of the virus among people, who came from affected countries, allowed the influenza to spread in the community.
In Karnataka, the first positive case of H1N1 Influenza was reported on June 13. A mother and child, who had arrived from the US to Bangalore, tested positive. The news spread panic in the City and the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (RGICD) hospital gained prominence for being one of the initial centres in the City to carry out screening and testing of H1N1 Influenza. People started flooding RGICD, Victoria Hospital and Lakeside Hospital. 

However, the heat of the Influenza was felt in Bangalore only on August 13, when 26-year-old school teacher, Roopa Anand became the first victim to succumb to the flu. Unable to handle the huge rush of people coming for screening in the three designated screening centres, the government invited private hospitals to provide screening and isolated ward facilities. It also led to the formation of swab testing lab at the Neurovirology department, Nimhans, which was otherwise being sent to NIV, Pune, in August.   

The State Government was held responsible for consecutive deaths, with media attacking the Health Minister B Sriramulu for not giving any public statement on the health crisis. Sriramulu responded by announcing free treatment for positive cases, even in private hospitals. Eventually, not able to control the spread of the virus, the Central Government also announced that it would make Tamiflu, the first-line drug to treat the Influenza, available in certain licensed retail drug stores in every district.

Although the health department is still grappling from the flu crisis, efforts are on to spread awareness in rural areas with the help of folk artistes via dance and drama. 
Second wave

But the fear of the flu has not vanished yet. Experts predict a second wave and with vague reports on mutation, the preparedness looks patchy. “I agree that not many health officials and doctors across the State were aware about the new H1N1 Influenza.  But this experience has made us learn lessons. Now the state health department is ready to brace the possible second wave, if it occurs,” said Dr Vasudeva Murthy, Deputy Director, State Surveillance Unit.

Key developments of 2009
* The foundation stone for a 250-bedded hospital inside the Indiranagar General Hospital was laid, this year. The hospital will cater to Below Poverty Level (BPL) families. 

* Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Centre at Health City campus was unveiled in July. The 1400 bedded hospital’s prime focus is on head and neck cancer, breast cancer and cervical cancer. 

*Sparsh Hospital conducted a week-long project – Sparsh Vachana – to treat complex orthopaedic problems in children especially from poor background in October. The surgery was performed on 175 children.

* The first private lab to test  H1N1 Influenza swab samples was set up at Narayana Nethralaya.
  
* Suvarna Arogya Suraksha scheme, a pilot project of the state government was launched in the Gulbarga division. It aims at covering costs of diseases that require specialised treatment like Cardiac, Cancer, Nephrology, etc, treatment for BPL families.
  
*  Karnataka State Junior Doctors’ Association (KSJDA) protested demanding better facilities in government hospitals, stipend hike and security for doctors in May. The Medical Education department said that it will look into the matter.   

* Nearly 3,500 doctors from Karnataka Government Medical Officers’ Association (KGMOA) submitted their resignations in September. The doctors withdrew their papers after the government agreed to most of their demands.

* The health department sent a proposal to KPSC to recruit 200 doctors for Public Health Centres (PHC), last month. About 1700 posts are lying vacant, including specialists. 

* Fortis Hospital acquired 10 Wockhardt Hospitals for Rs 909 crore, this year. The total bed capacity of Fortis Hospital will now go upto 5180.

(Published in Deccan Herald; along with Poornima Nataraj)

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