Public hospitals lack swine flu facilities

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LAHORE – Public hospitals across Punjab lack the facility to diagnose H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, as cases with the deadly virus have started surfacing in other parts of the country, Pakistan Today has learnt.
According to details, the disease is called swine flu because of its similarity with influenza viruses which infect pigs. It is also one of the droplet infections and is highly contagious. Those infected with the virus have either inhaled droplets that have been coughed or sneezed out by an infected person.
In 2009, a mutated strain of H1N1 virus was observed resulting in what the World Health Organization (WHO) later called the swine flu pandemic, which killed thousands of people globally. Medical experts however believe that although Pakistan is not under a direct threat of swine flu virus, but cases have surfaced in Karachi and can reach other major cities including Lahore.
They said the various methods of diagnosing swine flu include observing a patient or through a PCR machine. They said since symptoms of the disease are quite similar to seasonal flu, a proper diagnosis cannot be made without proper laboratory tests. The lack of proper diagnostic facilities would result in a swine flue patient being treated for seasonal flu and ending up critical, which could lead to his death.
Only a few years ago, the Punjab Health Department set up swine flu wards and released relevant equipment and medicines across public hospitals to cope with the virus, however only a couple of cases were reported and the disease did not spread on a large scale. However, after the sudden dengue epidemic which hit major cities of Pakistan including Lahore, doctors fear that viruses mutate and change their patterns.
Talking to Pakistan Today, Jinnah Hospital CEO Professor Dr Javed Akram said the only PCR machine to diagnose viral diseases across public hospitals is available at Jinnah Hospital and that too lacks the kits for diagnosing swine flu. He said the only diagnostic facility is available at the National Institute of Health (NIH) where it takes at least fifteen days to get the reports.
“We keep on spending precious money on curative health and pay little attention to the preventive aspect of healthcare. Doctors can only continue guesswork without proper diagnostic facilities. The only option available is to send the patient’s samples to NIH, which is a long procedure,” Akram said, adding that the need of the time is to set up a viral research centre to study different viral diseases such as dengue, congo virus and swine flu.
The deadly disease spreads through swine, but Pakistan lies on the safer spectrum as there are no pig farms. However, he said the probability cannot be out rightly rejected, as global communication has increased a lot and people bring such viral infections back to the country and hence a proper diagnostic facility should be provided in advance.
Punjab Health Secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad said, “The protocol to handle any swine flu patient is already set and directions have been issued to all hospitals in this regard. He said that diagnostic facilities for swine flu patients are not available in public hospitals in European countries. He said if a patient comes up with the symptoms of swine flu he is immediately separated and his reports are sent to the NIH for tests.
He said the health department has to prioritise spending when considering the limited resources it possesses. To a question he said the government will set up a viral study centre to conduct research on all viral diseases, even those infections occurring in neighbouring countries.