As swine flu cases are increasing by the day, especially in Maharashtra, caution seems to be the byword. Here the teacher and the taught at the Rajawadi Municipal School in northeast Mumbai wear protective masks against the spreading virus.

NEW DELHI: The Centre on Monday decided to involve private hospitals in checking for the A(H1N1) influenza that has already claimed seven lives and affected 864 persons across the country.

The decision was taken in view of the increasing number of swine flu cases coming to government hospitals.

The Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry has also requisitioned the services of 35 additional and joint-secretary-level officers from other Ministries, to help coordinate with the States in containing the disease and ensuring treatment to the people.

Briefing journalists after a three-hour meeting with the Cabinet Secretary here, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said that with the number of swine flu cases increasing, it was decided that private laboratories and hospitals be allowed to test and treat patients provided they had the capacity to do so.

They would have to follow the guidelines approved by the Ministry, which have been forwarded to the States.

Involving the private sector would ensure availability of additional diagnostic capacity for testing for this influenza, Mr. Azad said.

At present, testing is done in 18 government laboratories.

Senior officers from other Ministries will be briefed on Tuesday and will then be sent to the States and Union Territories to assess their preparedness in terms of isolation capacity. They will also gauge the clinical capability of different hospitals both in the government and in the private sector. However, people will have to pay for the tests and treatment provided at private hospitals. Typically, a test costs about Rs. 10,000, and is done free of cost at government facilities.

The Centre will issue directives to private hospitals to make it legally mandatory to treat patients and comply with the guidelines which include operating isolation wards and having separate paramedical staff and doctors, and separate out-patient departments and wards