India has not Learnt any Lessons from Plagues

Now Swine Flu Pandemic Rages on with more than 700 deaths in less than 2 Months

If the world has still not forgotten the plague that had killed millions in the medieval era, it is because of periodical outbreaks of pandemics in India and Africa.

Swine_Flu_IndiaThe last outbreak of the bubonic plague, transmitted by fleas living on rats, in India was in 1994 when Surat in Gujarat was affected, resulting in migration of 10% of its population to other cities though deaths were reported to be less than 100.

The plague was also reported to have struck Shimla in 2002, with a loss of four lives.

SARS in China: The last 15 years have seen new forms of deadly flu strike the world, starting with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in China in 2002. Communist China, however, suppressed the news and, as a result, SARS spread to many countries, including Hong Kong and Singapore.

Nearly 400 people died of SARS in China, 300 in Hong Kong and 33 in Singapore (quick and efficient action by Singapore prevented a bigger tragedy).

1000+ Deaths in India: Then came the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic in 2009 which resulted in the deaths of more than 1000 people in India and 700 in China. Periodically bird flu also strikes countries, with NE Asia being vulnerable.

In less than two months this year, more than 700 lives have been lost to swine flu, with more than 11,000 having tested positive. Gujarat is again among the worst affected States with 176 deaths, next only to Rajasthan where 191 people have died so far.

In the South, Hyderabad has borne the brunt of it with 46 deaths.

Patients countrywide, including in New Delhi, have complained of a lack of adequate medical facilities in hospitals to deal with swine flu.

H1N1 Test Too Expensive: To make matters worse, treatment is expensive in impoverished India with swine flu test alone costing Rs 4500 (S$120). That’s ridiculous, even if that applies only to private hospitals.

Even the Aam Aadmi Party has only said private hospitals in Delhi should not charge more than Rs 4500 for the test. But it appears it is free in government hospitals. Why cannot the government subsidise it given that swine flu has assumed epidemic proportions now?

Costs cannot be prohibitive, whether the hospitals are private or public, in poor India with the government itself to blame for such outbreaks with poor spending on health.

Government hospitals themselves do not maintain proper hygiene and are overcrowded.

I am yet to see any meaningful coverage about the pandemic in news channels such as Times Now that is obsessed with cricket, the auction of PM Modi’s suit and other such trivia. In fact, I am yet to see anything on H1N1 on Times Now.

Will India ever learn lessons from diseases that affect the common man the most?

G Joslin Vethakumar

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