At least 630 Indians have died and over 9,300 have so far been infected by the swine flu virus (H1N1), which has spread across several Indian states and the national capital of New Delhi, the country’s health minister said Tuesday.
The Indian states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were the worst hit of the 13 states where cases of the viral infection have so far been reported. On Wednesday, the Indian government asked chemists to stock Tamiflu, a drug that is used to cure the disease. The government also released a state-wise list of dealers authorized to sell swine flu drugs and vaccines.
This is not the first time India has seen a swine flu outbreak. In 2009-10, the disease had reportedly killed over 2,700 people between May 2009 and December 2010, after a global pandemic, which spread out from Mexico. In order to better equip itself to combat the disease, India had, in July 2010, announced that it had developed a swine flu vaccine. However, another outbreak in 2013 left nearly 700 people dead.
Last week, the government said that it had ordered at least 60,000 doses of the viral drug Oseltamivir and additional test kits and masks.
Swine flu outbreaks usually occur during the winter and mostly subside by the end of the season. Although the death toll in the ongoing outbreak is much lower than the one in 2009, the Associated Chambers of Commerce of India (ASSOCHAM) said, in an assessment, that the disease could result in a loss of almost a billion dollars to the country's tourism industry.
The latest outbreak comes just weeks after the Indian government slashed its $5 billion annual health care budget by a fifth, straining a system that is creaking at the core. India spends just 1.3 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on public health care, and even if expenditure on private health care is included, the figure stands at 4.3 percent, International Business Times had noted in an earlier report.
The Narendra Modi government currently faces fiscal constraints, necessitating the cut. The government is facing a tax-revenue deficit of as much as one trillion rupees ($15.7 billion), forcing it to cut back on expenditure to meet its fiscal deficit target of 4.1 percent. However, this is not the first time that the health budget has been slashed. In the previous fiscal year, the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) administration had pruned the health budget by a similar amount.
In December last year, The New York Times reported that as many as 58,000 infants die in India every year due to bacterial infections. The report said that the rising toll of resistant infections could soon undo efforts to reduce high rates of infant mortality in the country.
In January 2012, The Atlantic said in a report that over half of all bacterial infections in Indian hospitals are caused by resistance to common antibiotics. In August 2010, The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal had reported the emergence of the New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase-1 (NDM-1), a new enzyme that makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics in India, Pakistan and the U.K.