While the underlying concerns are genuine, the media induced frenzy to buy masks and line up to get checked feels a bit extreme. I've received several dozen emails about various tips to avoid swine flu. Quick to take advantage of a situation like this, a number of alternative medicine touts have been broadcasting SMS messages promising to offer protection through tonics and protective oils. One SMS even claimed that fumigation of your home could keep the flu out.
I'm not in any way dismissing the impact the outbreak could have. Our poor medical infrastructure, thickly populated cities and lackadaisical approach to hygiene are a recipe for a healthcare crisis. But then, wait a minute. We already have a crisis, with several people dying of other diseases every day. My hope is that we take a more holistic approach to our healthcare situation instead of being reactive due to fear of the unknown, and ensure that we have a better longer term and sustainable plan.
Swinefluindia.com: I found a site which appears to be doing good job aggregating information about do's, dont's, symptoms, precautions, testing centers in various cities. Visit them at www.swinefluindia.com. They also offer to update their site with any additional information coming in - just follow the instructions below to send them your notes:
"Send the updated page to swinefluindia AT gmail DOT com and ensure that the Subject is “updated page” (all lower case). We use filters and labels to screen our emails, so a wrong subject line would result in an unnecessary delay. Also, copy and paste the change description you wrote in the page, in the body of your email so it makes it easy for us to understand what you have sent.
All emails received with “updated page” as subject will be given the highest priority. Please read these guidelines before you send anything. For technical issues and queries mail us with the subject "tech support""
Also useful was the guidelines that have been provided to schools and colleges about H1N1. Until recently, students needed to produce a medical certificate to take sick time off. It appears that in an attempt to avoid closure of educational institutions, the guidelines have been revised by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
(i) Any student or staff member showing flu like symptoms such as fever, cough, running nose and difficulty in breathing should be allowed to stay at home for a period of 7 to 10 days.
(ii) Educational institutions should not insist on production of medical certificate by the student/staff.
(iii) Educational institutions should monitor the health status of such students/staff who might have come in contact with a suspected case of Influenza AH1N1 to see whether they develop flu like symptoms. In case they do so, they should be allowed to stay home, as outlined at (i) above
(iv) In case of students staying in Hostels, the educational institutions would not only monitor the health status of the students, but also that of care providers. It has to be ensured that the care providers wear face mask and wash hands regularly. It might not be advisable to send the boarders back to home, as it would spread infection further.
(v) Educational institutions are further encouraged to report such cases to local health officers for further monitoring.
(vi) Given the current magnitude of the spread of AH1N1 infection and the fact that the current virus is fairly mild, closure of educational institutions on account of any student/staff member falling ill with flu like symptoms is not recommended.
(vii) In the first place, the schools should discourage the excursions of the students to the affected countries.
(viii) In case if the students had proceeded to affected countries on unavoidable tours, then on their return, if some students show flu like symptoms of fever, sore- throat , cough , body ache, running nose, difficulty breathing etc. they should be advised to abstain from attending school and be allowed to stay at home for a period of 7 to 10 days.
Drought: In a recent broadcast, NDTV highlighted that this years acute drought is likely to affect our country much more than H1N1. The impending famine, shortage of food products and price rise threaten to affect our large rural population and worsen malnutrition. In Vidarbha, Maharashtra where several farmer suicides happen every year due to drought, the rainfall is 80% less compared to the same period last year. And the bad news is, this isnt likely to be a one off drought year - satellite imagery has shown that the water table in our north western states has depleted significantly. Unless the government launches a program to drive more awareness about the impending water crisis, ways of planting crops that utilize less water, more efficient irrigation techniques, and leverage of the extensive river network so it isn't flood in one state and famine in the other, we may be talking about mass migration of our population.
While the future looks gloomy, the response of the government to the challenges faced inspires confidence. They have moved swiftly to handle the H1N1 situation without getting too caught up in the mass panic. The regulation of food prices and relief packages for drought hit regions are going to be key to helping revive our markets. The newly announced tax code is a huge bold step forward, and deserves a whole separate post. And today, I read about Manmohan's message to everyone in the judicial system:
“Like Gandhiji’s common man, the focus of the judicial system should be to wipe every tear of every waiting litigant,” Dr. Singh said, adding that “unless we meet his or her legitimate demands and expectations in letter and in spirit, we cannot rest in peace.”