Airport testing for swine flu is futile exercise | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Airport testing for swine flu is futile exercise

The World Health Organisation (WHO) does not recommend airport screening. “Such travel measures may possibly be useful in the early stages,” said Dr Salim Habayeb, WHO’s representative to India. Sanchita Sharma reports.

delhi Updated: Nov 18, 2009 02:11 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Less than 2 per cent people in India diagnosed with H1N1 — popular known as swine flu — have a history of foreign travel, shows data from the health ministry.

Yet 225 doctors and 172 paramedics continue to screen about 50,000 inbound passengers each day at the country’s 22 international airports.

Not only does this inconvenience thousands of weary passengers, it also burdens the health system.

The 397 doctors and health workers employed to screen passengers would be more useful treating patients who need medical attention.

Ministry data from November 8 to November 15 shows that only 17 of the 904 people diagnosed with swine flu had travelled abroad and might have got infected there.

This means only 1.88 per cent got the infection to India from another country. The rest, 98.12 per cent, got infected in India.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) does not recommend airport screening. “Such travel measures may possibly be useful in the early stages,” said Dr Salim Habayeb, WHO’s representative to India. “But at pandemic phase 6, such containment measures are of limited value since the infection is disseminated and spreading at the community level.”

Critics say influenza A H1N1 is now in the community to stay, but the screening is continuing because the government wants to be seen as doing something.

Since airport screening started in India on April 30, 86 lakh passengers have been screened for H1N1.