Feverish chaos

How prepared are we to face a catastrophe?

Published: Thursday 15 November 2001

India's disaster management is at best a pathetic display of chaos. So what does one say about our preparedness to meet any eventuality -- epidemic, calamity or maybe bio-terrorism. Given our track record of, let alone fighting, even detecting, periodic epidemic outbreaks, the latest looming threat of biological weapons is a challenge indeed.

Season after season, panic grips the corridors of health departments and ministries as a "fever of unknown origin" strikes one part of the country or the other. Yet as the fever dies down, so does the panic. Files are shelved, vials are stored away and the case is shut...till next the epidemic strikes again.

Now, with the war just a little away from our borders, fears of bio-terrorism are fast becoming a reality. But just how prepared are we to fight the mass casualty that might ensue? All that Delhi government could come up with was an additional 14,000 hospital beds. Enough to meet the city's and neighbouring townships' needs?

The country's medical apparatus is so ill-equipped to deal with what is right under its nose. Just how would they deal with what is today only lurking in the shadows, with a form of epidemic it knows nothing about or where it may strike. There are no trained personnel to identify any such disease before it blows into a catastrophe.

Not that we lack expertise, infrastructure or facilities. What we sorely lack is a political will to put things in place and a revamp of our medical system -- the hospitals, primary health care systems and doctors. There is also no inter-linkage between various scientific organization, institutions and government bodies. Above all, to contain any panic of the sort one witnessed during the Surat plague outbreak, the public must be prepared to handle any eventuality.

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