“This is the time when the migrant populations of the state are coming back from other states of India.
After impacting most of the states, Swine Flu has hit Kashmir with several patients testing positive for H1N1 at premier tertiary care SKIMS here.
Dr Farooq Jan, Medical Superintendent SKIMS, confirmed that hospital lab has received samples that tested positive for H1N1. “Yes, there have been positives but they are well within the expected limits. There is no need to panic,” he maintained.
Dr Jan said the patients who have tested positive fall in Category C, where hospitalization is not required. “We have asked these patients to stay at their homes and they have been directed to observe the necessary precautions,” he said.
Stakeholders are concerned at the way the state is dealing with what they call an ‘imminent threat’. “This is the time when the migrant populations of the state are coming back from other states of India.
These labourers, shawl vendors or others on vacations have been in the H1N1 high prevalence areas and may bring about a sudden spurt in the number of cases of H1N1 we have here,” said Dr. Abdul Khaliq, a senior physician.
The SKIMS, the only designated testing and treatment facility for H1N1 in Kashmir, is reportedly refusing to receive or admit patients. A highly placed source from SMHS Hospital said, “We have stopped sending suspected H1N1 cases to SKIMS for treatment and testing. They are not accepting our patients.”
Principal GMC, Dr. Rafeeq Ahmed Pampori refused to comment on the hassles of getting a suspected patient of H1N1 attended at SKIMS. He however said that SMHS Hospital was in the process of having its own infrastructure in place for handling the situation that may arise.
“We have already acquired the equipment for the H1N1 testing lab. The lab which will have a negative pressure system to contain microbial dissemination is being set up and will be ready in a fortnight,” he said.
According to Dr. Pampori, the hospital is also planning to have a isolation ward.
MS SKIMS rubbished the refusal of entertaining the SMHS Hospital referrals and said, “For us, every patient is equal and important. We cannot and never refuse any patient.”
Dr. SaleemurRehman, Director Health Services Kashmir (DHSK) said, “We have adequate screening facilities at the airport and we are not making awareness announcements in the aircrafts.”
He cited the avoidance of the ‘unnecessary scare’ especially for tourists as the reason for this ‘hush-hush’ strategy. “If we start making announcements about H1N1, tourists will think that Kashmir needs to be avoided. It is a part of Public Health Management.” he said.
Interestingly, in spite of a high traffic of population between Valley and high incidence states like Punjab and Delhi, the state chooses to turn a blind eye towards the possibility of a similar scenario arising here.
“Airport is not the only entry point into the Valley.
In fact, it is the entry point with minimum traffic. The rail and road routes that have multiple exits in rural Kashmir do not even have a flyer or a hoarding for awareness. In Punjab alone 9 people have died in five days,” said Farzana, a social activist.
Yesterday Nasik reported the first casualty due to H1N1, two people died in Punjab and other small states topographically and climatically similar to Kashmir have geared up their systems to handle the situation.
The DHSK has issued awareness messages in local newspapers but surprisingly the word H1N1 is missing from the announcements.
“The good intent of attempting to avoid panic cannot be rubbished. But when there is so much coming from other sources, DHSK awareness messages are information voids bound to create chaos,” said an expert of Public Health Communication.
“Because there is an information void, there are wrong beliefs about H1N1 that people are even talking about avoiding chicken,” he added.
Additional Secretary in Central Health Ministry, A K Panda, had told media on Friday: “It (the H1N1 outbreak) is inversely proportional to the ambient temperature. Once the temperature shoots up, the incidence comes down. There is no explanation and reason behind this spurt.”
However, health professionals in the Valley have been incessantly invoking the ‘cold climate’ of the Valley to argue that a serious outbreak is not possible here.