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Relentless onslaught

The swine flu epidemic is a little bit like the Terminator. It just refuses to go away. Our public health infrastructure seems helpless in the face of such an onslaught. On Monday the swine flu toll in the country climbed to 1,731, even as the number of persons affected by the disease inched close to the 30,000-mark, surpassing the earlier levels reached during the 2009 epidemic. The death toll was highest in Gujarat where 387 people have perished to the disease while the number of affected people has reached 6,148.

To make matters worse, a study by two MIT-based scientists, has suggested that the virus causing swine flu maybe a mutated strain of the swine flu virus. Scientific studies have shown that mutations in an influenza virus occur relatively rapidly, making vaccinations and regular medication redundant. The Indian government, however, has dismissed the claims of both scientists. The National Institute of Virology has gone on record to state that no such mutation has occurred in the swine influenza virus. With panic on the rise, one hopes that the government is right. If the study does prove to be true, mutation in the swine flu virus will prove to be disastrous for the general populace. The most important method to control the virus, however, is through spreading awareness of preventive measures like wearing masks in public spaces and hand washing, among others.

The Centre and State governments have been woefully slow and inadequate in issuing preparedness alerts. Although the present dispensation had made some initial noises of ‘health insurance for all’, it has not even begun the process of fixing the necessary health infrastructure required to utilise the minimal funds allocated for public health. India spends about 1 per cent of its GDP on public health, compared to 3 per cent in China and 8.3 per cent in the United States.

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