Every year, hundreds of precious lives are being lost to the H1N1 influenza, described by medical experts as just another >preventable and curable form of seasonal flu. This year, the >toll has already crossed the 200-mark , and over 2,500 people are being treated in hospitals and in homes. Rajasthan, Telangana, Gujarat and Maharashtra are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. In >Rajasthan alone, 85 people have died — the highest in the country so far. Last year, 937 cases of swine flu, as the influenza is commonly known, were reported, leading to 238 deaths. In 2012 there were 5,044 reported cases, which claimed 405 lives, while there were 5,253 cases and 699 deaths in 2013. The pandemic has been a regular occurrence in India since 2009 when the first case was reported. Even then the public health system is unable to stop these entirely preventable deaths. The level of preparedness of the States affected by H1N1 to manage an outbreak is often reviewed only after deaths are reported. This time it was done after a former Chief Minister of Rajasthan, the State Home Minister, and a Member of Parliament from Andhra Pradesh tested positive.
The situation was >reviewed by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in terms of adequacy of medicines and the readiness and training of doctors and paramedical staff in public health institutions in the States. A round-the-clock Outbreak Monitoring Cell of the National Centre for Disease Control is attending to public queries on H1N1 to keep people informed and to dispel apprehensions, since January 24. On their part, the States concerned have done their bit to tackle the crisis, with Rajasthan going a step further by issuing an alert, providing free treatment, and announcing the setting up of task forces right up to the district level to monitor the situation on a daily basis. Curiously, the information, education and communication campaigns to create awareness among the masses to protect themselves from the infection, and steps for timely treatment are launched only when the rounds of outbreak peak. The States have now been advised to ensure that steps are taken to prevent any increase in the number of casualties by encouraging people to approach public health facilities on time, and to educate them on preventive methods. The simple flu becomes deadly as patients come in for treatment only when things go out of hand. Advance planning and readiness to deal with the annual seasonal outbreak by means of simple and cost-effective awareness creation by the public health authorities, would go a long way in preventing deaths.