Saturday, August 1, 2009

Swine flu scare in India

Yesterday I returned to Pune after 10 days and was shocked to see almost half the population wearing face-masks to protect against swine-flu (H1N1 virus in India). Considering that there have been 6 H1N1 related deaths in Pune in the last week, the fear among the people is understandable. But is the mass hysteria justifiable?
Y'day, I watched a TV interview by the Indian health minister talking about the preventive measures taken by his goverment. He proudly claimed that India has screened 4.7 million people which is the biggest exercise of its kind in the world. He also blamed travellers coming to India for bringing this virus into the country.
While I agree that this virus has come to India through passengers coming from overseas, I would say that the biggest blame lies with the Indian government for its negligent attitude which has led to this situation in India.

The first reports of Swine flu came from Mexico in April and in May, the WHO talked about Swine Flu being a potential pendemic. What was Indian government doing then to prevent the spread of this virus in India? I returned to India from Paris on 29th June. I took the flight from Paris to Abu Dhabi and then changed a flight from Abu Dhabhi for India. After the flight landed at Abu Dhabi, every passenger had to undergo a test where thermal scanners manned by doctors screened passengers for potnetial flu symptoms. The system was very simple to implement and very efficient as well. Compare this to how this threat was dealt in India.

Before landing in Mumbai, each passenger was given a declaration form in which the person had to fill in some basic information like whether they had been to a flu affected country or had been in contact with a flu infected person. I filled this form in the flight and then landed at the airport. There was utter chaos at the terminal. There were some officials who wore face masks and asked each passenger to go to a particular room to get the form attested. I duly went to that room and got the form attested. After that I cleared immigration and entered into Mumbai with that form still with me; no official had looked at that form after I got it attested. So here I was, back in India, with a useless form in which I had mentioned that I had been to a swine flu infected country. No one had bothered to read that form and test me for any possible symptoms. And now the government blames travellers!!!!!