Are lives being endangered through a lack of healthcare transparency?
The delay in the recent reportings of the emergence of the Zika virus in India has posed a number of worrying questions. Why, if the first case occurred in November 2016 did it take until May 15th of the following year to report the presence of the disease to the World Health Organization (WHO)?
India was previously ranked second to last in a survey of 32 countries by KPMG International investigating healthcare transparency. The survey specifically analysed the availability of healthcare data and reporting of health related parameters.
This statistic has previously been used in reference to issues such as poor explanation of the differences in cardiac stents, therefore misguiding patients into purchasing more expensive variants. However in light of the recent media backlash against the delayed announcement of the arrival of the Zika virus, the statistic may have a broader application.
The actions of the authorities after receiving knowledge of the presence of the Zika virus has been described by some as suspicious. The WHO was not informed, despite standard practice on a global level to report outbreaks of diseases that could cause a public health emergency.
The reasons given by Indian officials for not reporting the disease cases to the WHO is that the Zika virus was declassified as a public health emergency of international concern in November 2016. Perhaps more alarming, Ahmedabad health officials were only made aware of the Zika cases in their city through a WHO public announcement, months after the cases occurred.
Not informing the public was said to be a decision made to not create mass panic. However, to not inform the relevant health authorities in the affected area implies that the lack of transparency is also in place between government and hospitals. This could potentially mean that there are far more Zika cases than are currently being reported. s no information has reached either the public or local health officials, precautionary measures may not be in place to attempt to prevent the spread of the disease.
Though India seems to have avoided a crisis so far, a study in The Lancet claims there is a high chance of a future outbreak. The study notes that 67,422 travellers arrive per year from Zika affected countries and that 1.2 billion people reside in potential Zika transmission areas within India.
This is a deadly combination that makes an outbreak seem highly likely. A lack of transparency from healthcare authorities and a neglect for preparation and preventative measures could see this theory become a reality.