India finds itself in a strong grip of Swine Flu scare this week. Looking at the building hysteria in the country, with both valid and invalid emotions around it, I could not resist myself in adding my own 2-cents worth of thoughts and comments in the already heavily-crowded rants about this topic. So here it goes -
To the best of my memory, after a long time India (along with many Asian and African countries) finds itself in a unique situation where it is dealing with a healthcare epidemic which is not its own creation. Traditionally, the West had always been vary of the developed countries in the East for posing these kinds of risks; however this time the table seems to have turned. Not surprisingly, for a country which is typically geared to handling home-grown health issues; India finds itself grappling with the “deer caught in the headlight” problem.
In my personal opinion and the history of past health-epidemics makes me confident in saying this – the Swine Flu scare is a temporary thing and India (along with the entire World) will get its arms around it eventually. As was the case in the past epidemics – it will take its toll though in terms of health, unfortunate loss of lives, and also financially. But the world will sail through this. Mankind has sustained some worst healthcare epidemics and with all due respect to people who have suffered through this, Swine Flu outcomes certainly does not measure up close to many of them.
Having said the above – my point in this blog is also to reflect upon how many cracks has this Swine Flu event exposed in the Indian Healthcare System. In one of my previous blog on “Healthcare in India – From Consumer Perspective“, I had talked about a similar point. India certainly has an ever-improving healthcare system in terms of facilities and brain – but I feel that the same system failed quite badly to deliver its services to its Consumers in Swine Flu’s case. To blame on any one party would be to simplify the issue, IMHO. Government were in a reactive mode rather than a proactive mode; Healthcare Service Providers seemed to be overwhelmed and more satisfied in testing the patients rather than educating them; and Pharmaceutical companies did not seem to assure the consumers regarding the status of the remedial drugs. To a big extent even the Consumers have their share of blame for not educating themselves and for reacting in a ‘herd’ way. The only one who seemed to be having a regular field day on this seemed to be the Media. Talk about a proverbial perfect storm!
It would be foolhardy to blame anyone for not predicting this before; but going forward Indians (the Government, Doctors, or the Consumers) will have to learn as to how to react and handle healthcare issues. Proper communication, analysis, and cordination is the key to handle this. I know it is easier said than done especially in circumstances like these. However, many baby steps can help. Here are some examples -
- Share key data associated with the patients – As I write this, reports are coming in about the death of the 16’th victim. As a concerned individual, I am keen in knowing more about them so that I can compare myself with their health conditions. Is it the swine flu virus itself which is lethal (as far as I have read it is not lethal if proper drugs are taken) or is it the combination of health disorders which affected those unfortunates? Why were the President of Hondurus or the Harry Potter star able to recover from Swine Flu and why these people could not? Is there something more to the story? It is my strong belief that being open and sharing data can calm people’s concern to large extent.
- Talk about people who have recovered and how did they do it – Talk about successes while also talking about failures! My understanding is that there are plenty more people who have recovered from H1N1 than who could not. How did they manage to? Share that and make press/media releases out of them. That will certainly help others learn from their experiences and self-manage accordingly.
- Learn from others – Swine Flu came to India relatively later compared to many parts of the world. Shouldn’t that be to our advantage? Shouldn’t we be learning from other countries (United States, Mexico, UK, etc.) as to how they are handling it or have handled it? Scanning through the local newspapers in these countries do not seem to communicating similar kind of panic as what India is going through currently. What has worked for them and what has not? Healthcare systems need to use this information to assure its citizens.
I am sure many of you have additional suggestions about what the Healthcare machinery should have implemented or should be implementing (post them in the comments section if you do) to handle outbreaks like H1N1. The point I am trying to make here is that it is high time that we all change our habits to handle rare diseases outbreaks like these. In healthcare challenges like H1N1, the top-down (service providers reaching out to patients) or the bottoms-up approach (patients accessing doctors for remedies) are very in-sufficient. We need to go beyond regular paternalism. The online or the TV media could use collaborative learning techniques in a responsible manner at a national level to help facilitate the outbreak.
Thoughts, comments, and/or fires are most welcome!