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First symptoms of summer

The swine flu is spreading fast. But our healthcare system is yet to wake up.

india Updated: Apr 30, 2009 01:22 IST

As the scorching summer sets in, we seem to be in for difficult times. First, we have to contend with the economic slowdown. Now a new challenge from the health sector seems to have washed up on our shores. The swine flue which was first reported in Mexico last week, has now spread to 12 new countries and the death toll in Mexico has crossed 150. After three days when cases were first reported, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday night decided to raise the flu alert from phase 3 to phase 4 (human-to-human transmission of flu causes sustained community outbreak). This amounts to two steps short of a full pandemic. This is the first time that an alert of this scale has been issued since 2005. According to the British newspaper Guardian, the initial outbreaks across North America reveal an infection already travelling at a higher velocity than did the last official pandemic strain, the 1968 Hong Kong flu. Experts add that it seems less “lethal than Sars in 2003, but as an influenza it may be more durable than Sars”.

The outbreak of swine flu in human beings suggests that we have on our hands a new version of the H1N1 strain of influenza type A. If it acquires more serious proportions, the Indian health care system is most definitely not equipped to deal with the problem. Our crumbling health care system cannot even deal with the routine health scares we have every year in the blistering summer months.

As the Hindustan Times report shows, we are nowhere near able to tackle the swine flu problem. The government has spoken about screening in-bound passengers. We heard the same noises during the SARs outbreak of 2003. Unlike in Seoul airport, our terminals do not have thermal scanners, which can check body temperatures of passengers coming into the country. Neither are the helplines, that were installed overnight, capable of disseminating accurate information to people. The summer season in India carries in its wake many deadly communicable diseases. Many of these can be averted if we could step up our sanitation facilities. But, unfortunately, we are condemned to repeat past mistakes. And this time around, we have a new problem on our hands in the form of the swine flu.