A day after India’s first swine flu death in Pune, when 14-year-old Rida Shaikh lost her life, the Maharashtra government declared a swine flu epidemic in two districts — Pune and Satara.
It also began the process of taking action against the hospitals that tested and treated the victim, even as her parents said they would sue the hospitals.
Both the Union Health Ministry and the Maharashtra government issued fresh guidelines to prevent further spreading of the disease.
In a major departure from earlier procedure, the health ministry said people showing mild signs of swine flu — cough and cold, fever, headache — would no longer be quarantined in designated hospitals till their sample results were known. They could go home.
“The fear of having to stay isolated in hospital was keeping many people from getting themselves tested,” said Vineet Chawdhury, joint secretary, Union Health Ministry.
“We therefore introduced this option so as to track down as many cases as possible and treat them in time.”
In Pune and Satara, however, with an epidemic declared, district collectors can now peremptorily enforce isolation and treatment on all those suspected to have been infected but unwilling to get themselves treated.
Officials also have the right to seal premises — schools and offices — where people are found to be infected.
“We have issued showcause notices to Jehangir and Ruby hospitals, where Rida was treated,” said Dr Rajendra Shingane, state health minister.
“They stand accused of wrong diagnosis and of delay in referring the victim to the government hospital where swine flu patients are treated.”
The replies are expected in a day or two.
On television, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan was categorical. “There was negligence on the part of Jehangir Hospital. We’ll take action against it,” he said.
“Our mistake was that we trusted the doctors at Jehangir,” said Rida’s aunt Ayesha Shaikh.
Both hospitals have refuted the charges and said they followed procedures laid down by the government.