Of a suspected 30 patients admitted to the Nishtar Hospital in Multan, 17 have been confirmed to be infected by the H1N1 swine flu virus. And with this comes the news that the hospital has run out of kits to test further cases. Worrying, since the virus spreads in the same way as the common cold, and early detection can help save lives.
But so far medical experts seem conflicted in how exactly to survey, prevent and manage the spread of the virus. A vaccine is available, but funds for its import have not been budgeted for. Even if procured, it is impossible to vaccinate the entire population, and criteria for identifying persons most at risk are not developed. Spread from pigs and birds to humans, there is no guarantee that poultry farms serving the local market are vaccinating their animals, even if the ones catering to the export market are legally required to.
In such circumstances, treating a contagious disease as an insignificant concern can lay the ground for a needless exacerbation of a manageable problem. But in Pakistan we don’t budget for this. It’s not our style. If there is one national malady, it is an allergy to long-term planning. With the Punjab government’s attention focused on flyovers and flag-waving world records, the Chief Minister’s familiar blustering promise to “tolerate no negligence in stopping the flu from spreading” provides little reassurance.
For starters, Nishtar Hospital needs more detection kits. Get them. Poultry farms should be strictly and regularly inspected. Make it happen. There is a vaccine available, it’s not a bad idea to keep a stock, should it be needed for a localised outbreak that threatens to spread. It’s common sense, really. In the unfortunate circumstance that there is an epidemic, it’s not like we can negotiate with the flu. Best to be prepared.