The Pune Panic

· Hitting the panic button

With second probable swine flu death occurring in Mumbai, Maharashtra, even I did feel a sense of scare about swine flu. Staying in Pune (the swine flu capital) these days is much about receiving phone calls from home, friends, relatives inquiring about health, asking to take ‘due’ precautions.

There’s definite sense of panic in the pleasant Pune air; people rush to testing centers at the drop of hat, some suffering from headaches directly ask the docs if they are suffering from swine flu. Number of masked people has gone up around the city (P.S. I read this somewhere; I haven’t really stepped out much unless really required). You can’t criticize them though. No harm in taking precautions.

But really, who is/are responsible for this panic? Government, hospitals, media, entirely?

· Private & Public hospitals handling (in Pune and quite the same, around India)

Government has put a stubborn face not providing private hospitals with Tami flu medicines which could cure the Swine Flu. That has, in the most negative way, caused the private hospitals to turn down almost every sort of patient showing even the mildest forms of Flu symptoms (sometimes, not even, those).

Is it totally government’s fault? Aren’t private hospitals irresponsible themselves? Haven’t they done enough to lose the credibility not to be trusted to serve the real needy in such times?

Government hospitals have their own woes. In India, they are supposed to be only for the poor. With severe shortage of staff and space, some of the Hospitals in Pune have failed miserably to counter the spreading epidemic.

· Lack of Dissemination of information

Some doc just said in a TV show on CNN IBN (the Pune debate) that he still gets calls from people asking what are the symptoms of swine flu? I got an information pamphlet from a nearby hospital just today (till now, there have been 160 cases on Swine flu in Pune with a death).

There has been decent amount of awareness in upscale and middle class suburbs. However, a lot has been desired in slums and industrial workers’ colonies yet.

Someone said that Pune Municipal Corporation needs to follow Pune police pattern of regularly sending SMSes/emails to alert or spread awareness among citizens: this, IMO, is a compliment to Maharashtra’s home department that gets bashed every now and then, after every terror attack.

· Healthcare facilities and infrastructure

Despite several planning from India and Maharashtra governments, healthcare remains a highly vulnerable sector. There has never been a focus on ‘total and all round’ development. India, due to its lack of intent and efforts alongwith political apathy has emerged as a high danger destination for almost all kinds of diseases.

There has never been an active promotion of cleanliness and greenery in India (although on a respectable note, I find a few tiny groups supporting the cause).

Probably no one’s aware that there’s a more serious epidemic of cerebral malaria running through Bihar right now, which has already claimed 10 lives amongst 1500 cases found so far.

Thankfully, swine flu hasn’t yet spread much in villages and rural parts of the nation. It is imperative the epidemic be controlled.

· Solution: The Mexico pattern?

Mexico kept itself totally shut for a few days and overcame the flu. Can Maharashtra (and or even, Delhi) ever take such step? Can an Indian state ever be so bold, protective and strong?

If not, what are other ways of restricting swine flu now and such diseases in future?

As in my earlier writes, I again question India’s political willpower (earlier it was about tackling the terror). We, Maharashtra, need to show the way. We have highest number of foreign visitors alongwith highest number of foreign visits. If we cannot protect ourselves against terror and epidemics, how can we attract foreign visits and businesses in future?

There needs to be another ’93 where Maharashtra displayed exemplary handling of riot control and post-earthquake rehabilitation.

Delhi needs to come up with something similar in order to keep the interest alive in 2010 C’wealth games. It has constantly suffered from epidemics.

· Link for helpline/information

Swine Flu Helpline

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