No testing, isolation for H1N1 at SKIMS as Kashmir witnesses record deaths

As the ongoing flu season proves deadliest in recent years, the testing facilities at SKIMS have been closed down due to non-availability of lab reagents, while the authorities have also failed to ensure isolation of patients admitted for treatment.

In the past three months, at least 27 people have lost their lives due to H1N1 influenza, the highest for Kashmir since 2009, when its first pandemic was reported. The toll is higher than that of 2015, when as per figures reported by state health minister in J&K legislative assembly, 26 people had died of H1N1 influenza over four months.

However, this time around, at least a month prior to when cases of H1N1 influenza started to report at SKIMS, influenza experts had warned that 2017-18 was going to be “deadly” in terms of influenza in Kashmir, based on scientific observations. Despite these warnings, and despite four months passing, SKIMS is yet to make the isolation ward for influenza patients fully operational, as per sources.

A source at the institute said that recently out of the 14 beds in surgical intensive care unit of the hospital (SICU), five had H1N1 influenza patients. “The claims of the administration that there is an adequate, well equipped and well staffed isolation ward are an eye wash. Isolation has no dedicated staff for critical care and all the sick patients have to be admitted in ICU only,” the source said. He added that currently three “very sick patients” are on ventilator at SICU while two patients died recently. “We are risking lives of everyone here because of the lack of isolation,” the source added.

In November 2016, in a press conference, director SKIMS had announced that isolation facility at the hospital was being expanded to allow space for the surging inflow of influenza patients.

In addition, the two laboratories that were testing for H1N1 influenza at SKIMS have also stopped providing the facility due to non availability of testing reagents. A source at SKIMS said that no tests of patients have been carried out since 2 January.

Although, a tender notice for procurement of rapid tests kits for influenza has been floated by SKIMS on 4 January, doctors at the institute said, it was “too late”. “Why did the institute authorities delay procurement process so much? Instead of proper planning, they floated tenders after the supplies ran out,” said a doctor. He said he had to give anti-viral medication to suspected patients without any way to confirm whether they actually had influenza or not.

Senior doctors at SKIMS expressed concern at the “lackadaisical approach” of the hospital administration towards ensuring facilities for H1N1 influenza testing and treatment. “We are the only institute that receives the flu patients, whether we like it or not. We should have prepared accordingly,” said a senior faculty member.

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