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Testing times: Pune running out of options

When 14-year-old Reeda Shaikh became the first swine flu patient to die of the infection,the brunt of the ‘blame’ fell on private hospitals and medical practitioners.

When 14-year-old Reeda Shaikh became the first swine flu patient to die of the infection,the brunt of the ‘blame’ fell on private hospitals and medical practitioners. The fallout has been that Naidu Hospital — designated by the government as the only authorised place for the swine flu test — is caving under pressure from panicking residents,even as patients with flu-like symptoms are being turned away by other hospitals and doctors.

The strained government hospital,which does not even have a ventilator and lacks good approach roads,is struggling to cope with the unending demands. While Naidu Hospital has successfully upgraded from a 20-bed ward to one with 60 beds,it’s not enough. Certainly not on Wednesday when people stood in queues for a check-up and instead were told to go to their private practitioners. These,in turn,referred patients back to Naidu.

Mohsin M from NIBM road,for example,was aghast when a doctor at Naidu Hospital simply recorded his history and did not check his four-year-old daughter. “She has had fever for four days with cough and vomiting. After reading the government’s instructions to visit Naidu Hospital for a check-up to rule out swine flu,we waited in for two hours only to be told that since our daughter was not from any swine flu-affected school,she was alright,” he fumes.

When Navdeep S,an IT consultant,visited Nobel Hospital at Hadapsar,he was turned away. “Everybody is telling us to visit Naidu Hospital,” says Navdeep who has just returned from Canada.

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Anand Waichal is angry and confused. “Why does the government not tell us exactly what to do? Reeda’s death has created panic. My two children are suffering from fever. I have been standing in the queue since 8 am and now the doctors say there is no need for a test,” he says. “Will the private practitioner treat my children? They will refer me back to Naidu.”

For the doctors,though,it is a case of wait and watch. “Reeda’s death and the subsequent fallout,with the government lambasting doctors at Jehangir Hospital,have now created a sense of fear among doctors,” says Dr S Nanal from Chandannagar. “We will test patients,but any person with fever,cold and cough is being referred to Naidu Hospital.”

“It’s a big mess,” says Dr Tahir Shaikh who examines at least 50 cases of seasonal flu on a daily basis. “Should we send all of them to Naidu Hospital?

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Pune Municipal Commissioner Mahesh Zagade,who visited Naidu Hospital,said that there was an increasing load on doctors there. “We have asked people not to panic and report to the hospital only if their doctors feel that there is suspicion of swine flu,” says Zagade. Dr Rajesh Gadia,consulting physician at KEM hospital,however,is sceptical and says that the government has created the problem. “The government has to involve private practitioners in treating cases of swine flu. Doctors who did not diagnose the virus in Reeda’s case are being pulled up by the government and what can GPs do now? Any patient who comes in with a seasonal flu is now being referred to Naidu Hospital for a swine flu check,” says Gadia.

GPs have been calling Dr Pradeep Awate,state nodal officer for swine flu,for clarifications on what treatment to offer patients suffering from flu-like symptoms. If Reeda was infected at a clinic after the doctor treated another patient who tested positive for the flu,local medicos don’t want to take any chances. Now,the state has planned an interaction with doctors to allay their fears and inform them about new measures being taken.

First published on: 06-08-2009 at 12:19:21 am
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