H1N1 Treatment Burns Hole in Patients' Pocket, Exposes Chinks in Medical Sector

Published: 23rd February 2015 05:59 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd February 2015 07:55 AM   |  A+A-


NEW DELHI: Ritu Aggarwal, sitting outside the swine flu ward of Safdarjung Hospital is worried. Her husband Mahesh has been admitted there and the prevailing conditions are unsatisfactory.

“I’ve spent around Rs 15,000 in my hometown in Uttar Pradesh but they lack the facilities to treat swine flu.  They told us to go to Delhi. The government should make swine flu medicines available in the other states too.”

The Delhi Health Services on Saturday issued show cause notices to two private labs for overcharging more than the specified limit of Rs 4,500 fixed by the government for swine flu tests. A Health Ministry team conducted a surprise check on Friday and found that two private laboratories -- Healthcare Diagnostics at Yusuf Sarai and Global Diagnostics, Hari Nagar -- were overcharging possible patients.

It may have disappeared from the news, but the pandemic continues unabated. The death toll was 743 last week and the number of cases reported, around 12,000. In Delhi, 2,060 swine flu cases have been officially confirmed and nine have died. Meanwhile, 98 dengue cases were reported till September, going up at the rate of 30 per cent each week. The National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) statistics reported 74,454 dengue cases in 2013 and 167 deaths nationally. About 18,639 cases of Chikungunya had been reported till last year. India, fortunately, has escaped Ebola. The bird flu scare had triggered such panic that meat merchants in Chandigarh were offering free chicken and eggs to show that their products were healthy enough to be consumed. Is the country’s medical network and government facilities prepared to deal with epidemics?

Taking a look at the top hospitals in Delhi, Express saw that the country’s premier hospital, All India Institute of Medical Sciences(AIIMS) , did not have a separate ward for H1N1 patients. Infected people are admitted to the general emergency ward, putting others at risk. In most government hospitals, swine flu affected patients are waiting for their turn to get treated in hospitals that lack infrastructure and manpower to cope with the situation. Says a senior doctor of the AIIMS, “People come from all over the city and the country. Even private hospitals have separate H1N1 wards, but AIIMS doesn’t.” At Guru Tej Bahadur Hospital, heated arguements are a daily occurrence between patients and doctors in the small, dimly-lit H1N1 ward. At Lal Bahadur Shashtri hospital, patients and doctors wait for almost a week to get swine flu test reports. They do not even have a laboratory to test for viruses. “Because of the sudden rush, we have to wait for a week to get H1N1 reports after taking the samples which are sent to the National Centre for Disease Control.” said Dr. Amita Saxena Medical Superintendent, LBS hospital.

As a result, the patients are fleeced by the private hospitals. Vijay Khatri had admitted his 70 year old grandmother Bhagwati Devi to the Holy Family Hospital in Delhi. “The hospital charged Rs 1.15 lakh for four days but there was no improvement in her health. I was forced to shift her to Safdarjung hospital,” he said. The local hospitals have recorded an influx from UP, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Haryana, where no facilities for H1N1 tests and treatment exist.

Licences have been given to around 100 medical retail stores to sell Tamiflu, along with around 14,000 retail stores and 100 medical retail stores near hospitals in co-ordination with three city-based chemist associations.  National Centre for Disease Control, AIIMS and V P Patel Chest Institute have labs to test the samples. “We have directed Maulana Azad Medical College and University College of Medical Sciences to conduct tests at their laboratories,” said a Health Ministry official. “Any 100-bedded hospital, private or government can treat swine flu patients if they have ventilator facilities. We have asked 26 hospitals, of which six are private ones, to create special wards,” he said.

Now, the Delhi government has a stock of 1.2 lakh tablets of Tamiflu. To ensure availability of medicines, the Health Ministry has put up a list of retail outlets on its website, “We have been conducting raids at private labs and chemists’ outlets to ensure that no one overcharges,” said the officer. The government has also started a helpline number 011-22307145 for information on swine flu. “People can complain of overcharging by private labs,” added the officer.

Apart from the lack of hospital infrastructure and scarcity of trained doctors, the government’s attitude towards the swine flu as ‘seasonal’ also adds to the grim picture of healthcare in India.

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