Swine Flu: Challenges and Impact on the Indian Economy

  • Richa Sekhani

Swine flu has seen a worrisome spread in India recently, and there are fears of another resurgence in the coming months. This issue brief explores the economic impact of swine flu and the challenges India faces in fighting the disease.

The successful growth of any country is largely dependent on its citizens’ health. A healthy population contributes to productivity, savings and progress. However, the quality of health Tservices of a country is highly influenced by the role of its ministries, government departments, civil society groups and donor organisations. Dealing with public health requires 2 multisectoral collaboration and interdisciplinary coordination.

Since 1950, India has made remarkable improvements in its public health status. For instance, the maternal mortality rate, total fertility rate and levels of malnutrition have been significantly lowered. However, challenges still exist. With India undergoing a demographic and environmental transition, there is a considerable burden of communicable, non-communicable and emerging diseases that not only affect the lives of people, but also the working of various sectors of the economy. One such current burden is swine flu.

Swine flu refers to influenza in pigs, which is a communicable respiratory disease caused by Type A influenza virus. 2009 saw the first swine flu pandemic, starting in Mexico, from where it spread to 74 countries across the world, including India. A disproportionate number of deaths occurred in Southeast Asia and Africa, where access to prevention and resources for treatments were limited. Research conducted by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 showed that the pandemic of 2009 resulted in the death of as many as 579,000 people worldwide.

In India, in a span of eight months from May to December 2014, swine flu had killed 981 individuals, of which 93 percent were from western and southern states. What is worrisome is that swine flu continues to affect the lives of thousands of people and has been hampering businesses in many affected states. A sudden spurt in the number of reported cases during the winter months of 2014-15 has ensured that the fear of yet another big outbreak continues to persist.

As of March 2015, the data released by the Ministry of Health showed 2,035 deaths out of 33,761 reported cases from 22 Indian states, of which Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and New Delhi are the worst affected (Rajasthan and Gujarat are the most badly affected so far).

The economically productive age group (30-45 years and 45-60 years) has been the worst hit by the flu. Experts have cautioned that the situation is similar to the 2009 pandemic. Some experts, such as Dr.
Aditya, head of Rajasthan’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) and Deepak Bhatia, an IDSP officer in Punjab, have said that the outbreak has been sudden and challenging. But this only raises questions about the preparedness of the Government of India. It also demonstrates the lack of timely intervention. Given its inefficient healthcare system and low accessibility of medical facilities, India needs to act soon, since, in the words of World Health Organization (WHO) chief Margaret Chan in 2009, “the virus is unstoppable.”