New Delhi / Mumbai: Despite swine flu claiming its seventh victim on Monday, and at least 800 positive cases, the healthcare system in India remains underprepared for the epidemic, with limited state-run hospitals authorized to treat the disease, limited numbers of oseltamivir tablets —the only drug that is effective against the H1N1 virus—to fight the infection, and a small number of doctors on call.

Pandemic: People at a hospital in Faridabad. Experts say more hospitals with adequate facilities are needed across the country. PTI

Healthcare experts and drug regulatory experts say that while a quick and correct diagnosis to confirm the H1N1 infection is key, it’s equally important to make as many hospitals with adequate diagnosis facilities and doctors readily available to face the emergency across the country

“But an inadequate medical preparation in several states to fight the epidemic may lead to panic situation as any delay in the diagnosis would impact a successful implementation of these attempts," said a healthcare expert with a foreign consultancy firm in Mumbai.

At least one civil hospital in every district has been identified as referral hospital for swine flu test and treatment, while some of the cities have more than one centre. However, the facilities in many of these hospitals are not at all satisfactory, he added.

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“Three-hundred-and-fifty- thousand doses of oseltamivir have been supplied to 35 district hospitals in Maharashtra," said a senior official at the state ministry of health. The government of Maharashtra on Monday also announced that it would allow selected private hospitals to conduct tests for H1N1 infection.

Currently only government hospitals are allowed to do the tests and treatments, said H.G. Koshia, commissioner, Food and Drug Control Administration, Gujarat. “The main reason to not allow the private hospitals is that the risk of drug abuse and the potential resistance."

“Guidelines for approving private diagnostic labs for testing A/H1N1 have also been finalized and communicated to the states. However, no labs have been contacted by the government yet. This will be done now that the guidelines have been finalized," Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said on Monday.

He added that “the government will import another 22,000 testing reagent kits besides the 27,000 already procured".

Azad said the government would also stock an additional 20 million capsules of oseltamivir and would procure from all the firms that make this drug.

In India, Cipla Ltd, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, Hetero Drugs Ltd, Roche Scientific Co. India Pvt. Ltd and Strides Arco Labs Ltd make this drug.