Few specialists for infectious disease in India

Infectious diseases (ID) kill more people in India than cancer, accidents and natural calamities put together. Yet there are very few doctors in the country who specialise in treating them.

The US has over 6,000 specialists in this discipline, even though only six per cent of Americans die of them. In contrast, 48 per cent of deaths in India  — around 5 million a year — are caused by diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid, right done to the recent swine flu, all of which fall in this category.

Since there are no specialists — except a handful who have qualified from abroad — different doctors take charge depending on the organ the disease has affected. Experts claim this often leads to the wrong antibiotic being prescribed.

Why are there no specialists? Simple: because none of the 280 odd medical colleges in the country offer a degree course in infectious diseases.

A long pending proposal for a post-graduate degree in infectious diseases was approved last month but the course will start in 2010.

“A good number of the deaths due to swine flu in Pune were because of late diagnosis and lack of expertise in dealing with multiple medical conditions,” said Dr Navin Shah, US-based urologist.

Dr Om Shrivastava, one of our few ID specialists, consultant at Kasturba Hospital, Mumbai, agreed. “Seventy-five per cent of ICU deaths are because of infection. We are never going to have enough ID specialists in India,” he said.

Vineet Chawdhry, joint secretary in the union health ministry did not agree. “There are so many infectious diseases,” he said. “How can they be covered under one umbrella?”


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