The Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA) expressed its displeasure over the scant attention paid by the Health Ministry to the rapidly spreading swine flu in Sri Lanka. It accused the Health Minister and his officials of inadequate preparedness to face a possible epidemical outbreak of the A H1N1 virus better known as swine flu.
Addressing a press conference yesterday, HSTUA President Saman Ratnapriya said his union estimated that there were over a thousand swine flu patients in the country. "The Epidemiology Unit says that there are around 341 cases who tested positive of the A H1N1 virus. According to the Unit the number of dengue, swine flu and leptospyrosis deaths from the beginning of the year has been 417," he said.
The influx of the large number of samples being sent to the Medical Research Institute for testing has deterred its ability to return results as soon as possible. In many instances the results of the MRI tests reach the hospital only after the patient’s death (as in the case of the pregnant mother who died at Balapitiya).
Finally the Ministry had to send circulars requesting to send send samples of critical patients without delay. However, that leaves a question regarding patients who are not critical but who have symptoms of the virus, he said.
There are forty hospitals (teaching hospitals, general hospitals, base hospitals, Infectious Diseases Hospital and even the Childrens Hospital) identified by the Health Ministry to treat patients with swine flu and its symptoms he said. There are possibilities that the large number of flu patients treated at these hospitals were carriers of the A H1N1 virus.
According to the WHO, patients with swine flu should be treated in isolation. Which means that one patient should be isolated from the other even within an isolation ward. However this practice is not observed within the ward. So if a patient admitted into the ward is only suspected of carrying AH1N1 virus but in reality he is not a career s/he would be infected on being exposed to other swine flu patients in the ward.
The HSTUA President said that there should be awareness programmes conducted for hospital staff treating swine flu patients. They should be provided with the necessary equipment (the N95 mask, aprons etc) and they should also be given the swine flu vaccine, he said. Hospital staff members return home once they finish their duty. Many of them travel in buses and they may go to the market on their way back which means other people are also exposed to the virus in case these staff members are those working in isolation wards. The Health authorities in the Ministry and the Epidemiology unit should take steps to prevent such mishaps from taking place by providing all equipment and drugs necessary to hospital staff members.
He said that the isolation wards in the hospitals were provided with an adequate number of nurses. But the wards don’t have a separate doctor. Doctors from other wards should come and attend to patients in the isolation ward in their hospital. The Ministry should see to it that there are separate doctors affiliated to these isolation wards.
The Health Ministry has a knack of calling up hospital administration and telling them to set up isolation wards for swine flu patients. But they don’t take steps to provide them with the needed equipment. The Director or the medical superintendent is left to find all necessary equipment for the ward.
The HSTUA said they would take steps to carry out awareness programmes for the general public on swine flu tomorrow (16). They have already printed leaflets to be distributed to hospital workers and the public, Ratnapriya said.