To check swine flu in JK, official panel recommends vaccination of entire population

Srinagar: The J&K High Court has directed state as well as central governments to implement recommendations made by an official panel to control swine flu in the state.

The recommendations by the panel headed by SKIMS director, Dr Showkat Zargar, have called for, among other things, vaccinating entire population in the state in September and October.

The panel which was appointed by the court earlier this month has also advised immunization on priority basis of all high risk groups like health care workers, children less than five years of age, pregnant women, elderly as well as people with comorbidities like chronic heart disease or cancers.

It has also recommended inclusion of such vaccination in the “universal immunization programme” in future.

Besides, the panel has recommended that all high risk children between six months to two years of age shall be vaccinated against the flu while for other healthy children from two years onwards, “the vaccine is optional.”

So far 12 persons have died due to the swine flu while nearly 400 people have tested positive for the deadly virus in the Valley.

The panel has also recommended that a 50-bed ‘Infectious Hospital’ be allotted to SKIMS for which land stands already identified. The SKIMS has the manpower and other infrastructure in place for establishing such a hospital and shall also take care of other diseases like Ebola, Multi-drug resistant Tuberculoses “which are even bigger threats to the human life,” the panel said.

After establishing the hospital in SKIMS, the panel said, the facility shall further be established up to the district level hospitals.

The committee has also called for keeping ‘special budget’ available for procurement of N95 masks, Tamiflu capsules, reagents for testing and vaccines.

While the vaccines shall be made available in the market also for common people, the panel has recommended that Tamiflu shall be strictly made available in all hospitals only but should not be kept available in the open market because of possibility of it being misused.

Besides, the panel has recommended establishing of labs in GMC Srinagar as well as augmenting the testing facility at SKIMS.

The panel has also stated that a sub-committee has been constituted for conducting public awareness programmes about the HINI influenza and protective measures adopted.

“The sub-committee in consultation with Directorate of Health Services, will formulate advisories for schools which include guidelines like, if a child has flu like symptoms, (s)he be directed to stay at home for three days post fever, school need to have surveillance programme in position for which they will nominate a nodal officer who will coordinate with the sub-committee or authorities of the area.”

If a teacher complains of flu-like symptoms and asks for any leave, the committee has recommended that the same shall be got certified by a committee of physicians to be nominated by the Director, Health Services Kashmir at every district and sub-district level.

A physician committee will train health educators and school health education officers, who in turn will train teachers regarding preventive measures to be taken against HINI, it said.

The panel also made recommendation for flu immunization in children categorized as patients of asthma,  cystic, fibrosis, heart disease, congestive heart failure, blood or kidney or liver, metabolic disorders, weakened immune system, people younger than 19 years of age, who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy, people who are morbidly obese (having Body Mass Index of 40 or greater).

In its March 9 order, the court had directed the state as well as the government of India to implement the recommendations after receipt of the report by the committee

“Right to live a healthy life is one of the essential components and facets of life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The state is duty bound to take all necessary measures, enabling its citizens to live a healthy life,” the bench said and directed Commissioner Secretary, Health and Medical Education Department as also Ministry of Health, Government of India, to file compliance report before the next date of hearing on March 23.

“The (governments) shall take necessary steps for implementing the recommendations, as any delay will have catastrophic impact on the lives of the people of the state,” the bench said.

The court also directed the Director School Education, Kashmir and Jammu, to carry out the recommendations of the committee to the extent they relate to children and teachers. They have been asked to file compliance report before the next of hearing.  The court was hearing Public Interest Litigation filed by advocate Syed Ajaz Ahmad Qadri, seeking measures to curb the H1N1 virus in the Valley.

The court also appreciated Director SKIMS, Dr Showkat Zargar, and other members of the committee, for the report.

“(The members) rose to the occasion and exhibited sensitivity and commitment to the cause of people in making recommendations to the Government without loss of time,” the court said.

At the same time, the bench asked Director Health Services Kashmir, to explain why he did not attend the meeting of the committee despite directions by the court.

“The Director has not attended the meeting and even no explanation is given as to why he did not personally attend it. (He shall) explain the cause which prevented him from attending the meeting, in which, deliberations, recommendations were to be made about the important public issue,” the court said and asked him to explain his position.