New Delhi: Lack of specialized laboratories equipped with the latest equipment to identify and control viruses such as H1N1 (swine flu), has impacted the response time of the government for such outbreaks, noted the parliamentary committee on health.
“The inadequacy of specialized laboratories equipped with latest equipment in the country, especially at secondary and tertiary level has severely affected the response time in identification of the viruses and quick mobilization in the event of out-breaks or response to infectious disease out-breaks or epidemics, such as the H1N1 viruses," the parliamentary panel report said.
The committee also noted that progress has been slow on a health ministry for infrastructure development for health research and setting up a nationwide network of laboratories for managing epidemics and national calamities. The scheme entails Viral Research and Diagnostic Laboratories (VRDL) for timely identification of known viruses or agents of public health importance causing epidemics and developing diagnostic kits.
The VRDLs once fully functional will undertake research for identification of emerging and newer genetically active or modified viruses. The laboratories would also provide training to health professionals to deal with epidemics.
According to the health ministry, a total of 78 VRDLs have been established against the target of establishment of 125 VRDLs up to 2019-20. VRDLs have been established in 24 states. Out of 7 north east (NE) states, 4 NE states—Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim—have no government medical college. However, the regional level VRDLs—Regional Medical Research Centre (RMRC), Dibrugarh and National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases NICED, Kolkata are taking care of the entire geographical jurisdiction of NE region for routine diagnosis and outbreak investigations.
The only uncovered state is Goa. The government has said that despite vigorous follow up and visits to the state, there is no positive response from the state government, or concerned medical college for establishment of VRDL. Out of 7 union territories, VRDLs are established in 2 UT’s (Chandigarh and Puducherry). 4 UTs, namely Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu, have no government medical college. The nearby regional and state level labs are catering to the requirements. No VRDL has been established in Delhi so far.
Considering the viral diagnosis as a major health problem and repeated outbreaks of new viral agents becoming a common phenomena, a separate budget line was created in 2015-16 with a small provision to meet additional requirements for supply of diagnostic kits, transport of samples, hiring of additional manpower, etc. during such outbreaks. The panel has said that union health ministry should seek more funds.
“The budget line created in 2015-16 is being allocated meager amount of Rs5 crore in revised estimates (RE) 2017-18. During the year 2017-18, the department has utilized 80% of the allocation up to 31st January, 2018. The committee also takes into account details of action plan for the year 2018-19 encompassing various activities. In view of this, the committee recommends that the department should take up with the ministry of finance for higher allocation at RE stage," the report said.
According to the statistics available with the health ministry, 2,266 deaths were reported due to H1N1 in 2017, with the highest number of cases in Maharashtra (778), Gujarat (431) and Rajasthan (279).