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With 288 deaths, swine flu outbreak poses a big question on Gujarat-model of governance

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 23 August 2017, 19:11 IST
(Prabhat Kumar Verma/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A spate of deaths in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP National President Amit Shah's home turf of Gujarat, caused by swine flu, leaves a big question mark on the much-touted Gujarat-model of governance.

 

With the state having already witnessed 288 deaths by Tuesday evening, there is no immediate respite for the people in the offing. More than 3,200 people have been detected with the deadly H1N1 virus across 182 of the 250 talukas in the state. Ans this, when the state claimed to have a check on the spread of the virus.

The state government has constituted a task force to monitor the situation. It claims to have given all the government hospitals and private hospitals ample stock of Tamiflu, the tablet prescribed to treat the disease. It claims to be providing free test facility and treatment to the masses in the government health facilities. It has also started a multi-layered survey to identify the infected population.

In addition to this, a massive awareness drive has also been launched. A team of experts has reportedly been sent by the central government to take stock of the situation.

Reality check

But the people on the ground are contesting all the claims of the government. This year the first cases had started being reported from Saurashtra region in February. Sources say that by the month of March six deaths had been reported from the region.

Over the last few years, there have been Swine flu cases reported at the time when winters are ending. Their instances came down in May and June. From July these cases were again reported from across Gujarat along with eight deaths.

But the pace of these cases being reported picked up rapidly in August with almost 100 cases being reported daily along with two to three deaths in the first week. The second week saw a spurt where eight to nine deaths were being reported daily.

The situation worsened over the last ten days with around 60 deaths being reported in the last week alone.

“The government must answer as to why it did not take the required measures from February onwards itself. Knowing that this has become an annual phenomenon, the least it could have done was to have launched a large scale awareness drive,” points out a senior media person in Ahmedabad who has been studying the pattern of swine flu spread.

It is also being pointed out that while states like Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi have managed to contain the mortality rate because of a timely awareness drive by their respective governments, nothing of this sort was initiated by the Gujarat government.

The state government did not learn its lessons when even the high profile personalities like the former Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the health minister Shanker Chaudhary too were detected with this virus in the past. Sources say that just a few days back it was present Chief Minister Vijay Rupani's sister who tested H1N1 positive.

The people on the ground, including medical practitioners, are contesting the government claims on the availability of Tamiflu. Sources say that in Ahmedabad, the biggest city in the state, this medicine is only available at select private and government hospitals with a prescription.

“It is a Catch 22 situation. Getting the medicine even with a prescription is very difficult. Same is the case with the syrups meant for younger children to treat this disease. The hospitals, particularly in the government sector are short of the required infrastructure dedicated for Swine flu patients in terms of isolation wards and ventilators. Can just 20 beds and eight ventilators marked for patients in the biggest of hospitals serve the purpose at this point of time?” asked a health reporter who works one of the leading dailies in Ahmedabad.

There is also a massive shortage of N-95 protective mask and the Swine flu vaccine.

“This mask prevents the spread of infection. The vaccine costs between Rs 600 to Rs 800 and should be administered at the onset of the monsoon easily. Since the virus changes its stain every year, there is a new vaccine launched annually. The people are willing to purchase it but the availability remains a question,” said a doctor.

Make them aware at least

It is being underlined that the virus will spread but awareness can be raised to control casualties.

“The scene at the hospitals is scary. For the want of awareness, one can see relatives and attendants of patients with bloodshot eyes because of fever and cold which means that they too have been affected by the virus,” pointed out the health reporter.

The government and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation had recently been reportedly rebuked by the Gujarat High Court on the issue for taking its earlier directions lightly.

The court asked the state government to state what measures have been taken to curb the spread of the disease as it pointed out that so many people dying of the disease is really serious matter. The court also expressed concern about testing facilities and questioned whether there is a provision to provide this facility free of cost to the poor.

This was reportedly during a PIL hearing, where the petitioner had sought that swine flu be added to the list of vector borne diseases. The petitioner complained that the government had not set up laboratories at districts across the state to test the swine flu virus and the delay caused in diagnosis proves fatal in most cases.

Go herbal?

The AYUSH Department is promoting consumption of a herbal concoction 'Ukala' along with homeopathic medicines to contain the virus. But people like Dr Niraj Chavda of Vadodara have a different point of view.

“This leads to a false sense of security among the people. A person thinks that he is safe since he has consumed this concoction or medicine. The government actually needs to promote hygiene while asking people to avoid going out to public places. A person showing symptoms of the flu must be kept in isolation for at least a week,” Chavda said.

The role of private hospitals is also coming under a lot of criticism. It is a well-known fact by now that every year, the private hospitals are reluctant to admit swine flu patients.

“Majority of them do not want to give the impression that there are casualties in their premises. They turn away the patients coming to them saying that there is no space available to admit more. Neither have they made separate wards to keep swine flu patients. This is an old story and the government has failed to rein them in for the reasons well known to everyone,” pointed out a senior media person.

The saddest part of the story is that despite around 300 deaths, swine flu is unlikely to become a political issue in this poll year. While the people suffer, even the influential pressure groups and prominent personalities in the social sphere are not likely to raise a voice against it in public. Because doing so will mean that one is anti the Gujarat-model of development and this transcribes into being anti-Gujarat.

First published: 23 August 2017, 19:11 IST
 
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