India now officially has three cases of Zika. Despite calls from health agencies that the situation was nothing to be concerned about, no information was provided regarding the source of the virus. This has led to speculation that the severity of the virus’s presence in India has been downplayed.
Current reports by the Health Ministry only mention three patients. At the time of reporting this was covered in a previous article on Health Issues India. Within this previous article the concept of three cases — months apart over the course of nearly a year — mentioned without word of a source was brought under question.
It is a reasonable assumption that if three unrelated cases occur, the virus itself must have a source. Given the transmission method of the virus this must be either infected blood donations, sexual contact from someone infected with the virus, or, the virus is present in the local population of mosquitoes.
This line of thinking has been picked up by the media, who have become increasingly critical of the government’s response, some going as far as suggesting a cover up. One of the predominant reasons behind these accusations is that the announcement that Zika had come to India, not at the time that at occurred, but six months later.
Government officials were, apparently, aware that the virus had reached India at the time of the first case in Gujarat in November later year. Supposedly the silence regarding the matter was to avoid causing panic amongst the public. Soumya Swaminathan, director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research said that
“The required action on the ground was taken, and we felt we were doing the job well. We thought there was no need to create a public hue and cry or create a situation where people start panicking,”
Swaminathan said that due to the 28 million annual pregnancies in India, it is not viable to perform blood tests on anyone pregnant woman has a fever: the facilities are simply not available.
The Times of India (ToI) has perhaps been the most critical of the government’s response. Although, the ToI generally follows a pro-Government line, it claims that the Government has been “eerily silent” regarding the potential outbreak, comparing the response of the Indian Government to that of other Zika afflicted countries.
Other countries, claim the ToI, have almost exclusively seen a rapid response by their governments in putting forward awareness drives and public information. They also say that their repeated attempts to contact a 24-7 helpline on the Zika virus, created last October, went unanswered.
The high prevalence of the vector of the Zika virus, the aedes aegypti mosquito, in India is concerning. The conditions are ripe for the disease to translate from a few isolated cases to a full outbreak if left unchecked. It may be the case that Indian health departments were simply unprepared for the news of the virus’s arrival. India presents the perfect conditions for the virus to thrive, and without a rapid response, this may be the start of a major health crisis.