Monday, January 28, 2008

How not to handle an epidemic !!

Over the course of the past 2 years, there has been an immense amount of literature and news over the dangers of bird flu, especially the H5N1 variety that is extremely destructive, and has caused human losses elsewhere. There is a lot of worry over the fact that a pandemic has not happened for a long time now, and with the current movement of humans all over the world, any spread of a human version will be a much higher killer than previous pandemics. What can cause such a thing to happen ? Well, the bird flu is mostly restricted to avian creatures, and spreads to humans very rarely. In addition, even if humans are affected due to contact with infected birds, the disease does not jump from person to person. It is feared that if the virus comes into close contact with the human influenza virus, and exchanges genetic material with the virus, it is possible that this may cause the bird flu virus may be capable of becoming capable of getting transferred from humans to other humans. This is one of the most feared scenarios for health care personnel, especially because while humans do not take human flu seriously, the bird flu variety is a much bigger killer.
In such a scenario, it is even more necessary that any case of bird flu may be handled with the utmost seriousness. However, seeing the spread of bird flu in West Bengal makes one believe that the West Bengal government has been in a serious case of dereliction of duty. After all, it has been known for some time that many districts of Bangladesh have been affected by bird flu, and given the close interaction between districts of Bangladesh and West Bengal, there should have been a much better contingency plan. Given the close interaction between man and fowl in many areas of West Bengal, the districts and panchayats should have been sensitized about the seriousness of the issue and about the steps that they should take in this regard.
Instead, the disease was allowed to fester, with initial reports of birds dying being hushed up, culling operations being not adequately backed up by security and authority (even in a case where it seems clear that this is a health emergency), inadequate provision of compensation to people whose birds have been culled (leading them to try and hide their birds), and a general lack of seriousness among the state's politicians and leaders. This was to the extent that the Central health minister criticized the efforts of the state (although she was hushed up later, no doubt with the Big Brother CPM putting pressure on the Congress leadership).
Now the disease has spread to 13 districts, and is on the doorstep of Kolkata, and one wonders whether the inept State Government will be able to do something at all.

Birdflu on Sunday spread to two more districts of West Bengal taking the number of affected districts to 13 out of a total 19 even as the state government said it was fully prepared to face any kind of adversity if any human being is found afflicted by the dreaded disease.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation has formed eight teams to to keep the metropolis insulated from birdflu. The teams were moving in different parts of the city to monitor the situation. The fear that the disease might hit Kolkata has aggravated since the spread to South 24 Parganas, part of which form the city's suburbs.

One can only hope that the Government is serious. It has also been reported that part of the reason that the Government is abstaining from taking the strict (and also seemingly harsh measures) is the fear of offending voters; if such an attitude characterizes the Government response, then god helps up. Instead, panchayats are an ideal medium to spread the message about the harmful affect of the disease, and how cooperation will help all. Couple this with a strong media campaign and adequate compensation, and things would be much better.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:04 AM