Srinagar, Feb 22: Top health officials in Kashmir Valley today admitted that there was no swine flu vaccine available in any hospital of the region, where four persons have died and at least 109 are being treated for the disease.
Although they feel that there was no need for mass immunisation, but, at the same time, they admit that doctors and the health staff which takes care of infected patients are at risk and should be vaccinated.
"There are no immunisation vaccines for H1N1 virus available anywhere in the Valley," Director Health, Kashmir, Saleem-ur-Rehman told PTI. Rehman said the department was trying to procure the vaccines but "they had dried up".
"We had asked the suppliers for the vaccines, but it seems they have dried up. We are now trying to procure them from the open market and are hopeful to get them soon," he said.
He said that mass immunisation was not necessary and only doctors and the staff should be given the vaccine. "Mass immunisation is not recommended and only those health workers, who are dealing with the patients, are required to be immunised," the director Health said.
The authorities at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), which is the only testing and treatment centre in the Valley, also admitted of non-availability of vaccines.
"Yes, we do not have vaccines available in the institute as of now," Dr. Farooq Jan, Medical Superintendent, SKIMS, told PTI. Doctors at SKIMS, who were dealing with patients at the Emergency and the OPD of the hospital, voiced their apprehensions about catching infection in the absence of immunisation and protective gear.
"We do not know what is coming to us. We are dealing with many patients, some of whom may have the virus. In the absence of immunisation and the protective gear like special masks, we are prone to infection," a resident doctor at SKIMS said, wishing anonymity.
He also expressed concern over the "secrecy" which the health authorities in general and the SKIMS in particular maintained over the issue. "We were not told about the outbreak of swine flu in Kashmir.
They should have informed us well in time so that we could have taken precautions. We got to know about this through media only," he said.
Medical Superintendent Dr Jan said the institute has exhausted all the doses it had procured and accumulated.
"When the disease broke out the last time, we had 500 doses which we kept at the sale counter for the doctors and the sanitary staff. However, we thought the sanitary staff could not afford the cost of the dose and made it free for them."
"We kept the doses at concessional rates for the doctors but after some time even made it free for them as well. But only some took the doses. Most of them did not," he said.
The Medical Superintendent said the hospital had now used the doses and had exhausted them.
"However, the institute was doing its best to procure the vaccines and we hope they will be available in a day or two," Dr Jan said.
Director Health Rehman said the department was doing everything to protect the health workers from the infection.
"We are trying our best to prevent the health workers from infection but we must acknowledge that the virus is already in the community," he said.
The director said the authorities have been able to "contain" the spread of the virus and since last three days there has been no death because of the disease.
"I think it has been contained. We have not seen any new death for the last three days and the number of positive cases has not risen sharply," Rehman said.
He said since the last four days as many as 1.23 lakh patients were seen by the doctors all over the Valley for Swine Flu symptoms.
"Among those 1.23 lakh, 19,000 patients were suffering from upper respiratory tract infection. We examined those patients and referred only 19 cases to SKIMS for testing. Among those, only nine were declared positive for the H1N1 virus," he said.
So far four deaths have taken place in Kashmir due to Swine Flu, while 109 patients have tested positive for the disease. He asked the people not to panic and take precautions and eat healthy food.