The Centre on Friday asked the State governments to buy testing kits and protective equipment for health workers from the funds allocated under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM).
This was conveyed to the State Health Ministers, who were here to attend a review meeting of the NRHM, chaired by the Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Under the present arrangement, testing kits and protective equipment, along with medicines, were being supplied free of cost to the States by the Centre to fight swine flu.
Making a presentation at the meeting, Joint Secretary Vineet Chawdhry said there was a spurt in the number of cases of the disease in August with an average of about 150 new cases being reported daily.
While the situation at the national level was not too bad, the worst-affected cities were Pune, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Gurgaon and Ahmedabad. It was primarily an urban disease. It, however, was now moving to the rural areas, affecting the young, productive population.
Mr. Azad said at the meeting that the stockpile of the three-layered surgical masks had been increased to one million and that of personal protective kits and N-95 respirator masks to one lakh.
He asked the States to make urgent arrangements to procure these stocks on their own.
A committee in the Ministry was looking into a mechanism to fast-track the process of making available an influenza vaccine in the country. Three companies (Serum Institute, Panacea Bio-tech and Bharat Bio-tech) have been given import licenses by the Drug Controller General to procure the seed strain for the A(H1N1) vaccine.
When the vaccine starts becoming available, supplies would be low. Hence the government had decided to prioritise. Preference would be given to health workers, the Ministers were told. The government would try to make it available at Rs. 300 a dose.
Use of Tamiflu
Responding to queries from the State representatives over the guidelines and the use of Tamiflu and its side effects, V.M. Katoch, Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research said the Centre would soon issue an advisory on the adverse impacts of using Tamiflu indiscriminately thereby causing possible neurological disorders and behavioural changes.
He said the States should record and report the history of all deaths related to swine flu so as to ascertain the contributory factors like HIV/AIDS, diabetes and other health conditions that could have resulted in the death.
States not doing enough: Azad
Mr. Azad accused the State governments of not doing enough to check the spread of the A(H1N1) influenza.
But his criticism did not go down well with Gujarat Health Minister Jai Narain Vyas, who said the State Ministers were “not here to listen to these [unparliamentary] words. You are a federal Minister and we look forward to you for help and advice.”
Addressing the State Health Ministers at a review meeting of the National Rural Health Mission here, Mr. Azad said the “States have forgotten their duty” even though the Centre was stretching itself to the limit to contain the disease. “We [Centre] can go to a point, don’t expect us to go beyond a point.”
“We at the Centre are slogging here until midnight everyday doing everything, including contact tracing, procuring medicines, looking for vaccines and training doctors, while the State governments shut shop at 6 p.m,” Mr. Azad said. He expected State level officers to sit at least till 10 p.m. and disseminate the Centre’s advisories and guidelines, instead of keeping them in files.
Mr. Azad said it was easier to reach the Chief Ministers than the Health Ministers and the Centre had to go chasing them, instead of the other way round.
Going a step further, he said the Additional and Joint Secretaries, who had been sent to the States to coordinate efforts, informed the Ministry that the States were only fulfilling a formality by identifying private hospitals as infrastructure and that the number of beds meant to treat swine flu patients continued to remain less than needed.
Soon after Mr. Azad finished his speech, Mr. Vyas remarked that as federal Minister, he should not have made the remarks against the State governments.
Mr. Azad replied that he was not naming any State and said some States had indeed done good work.
Later, talking to journalists, Mr. Vyas said: “We accept that health is a State subject but he could not use unconstitutional words and say that States are having a good time. ”