Monday, August 17, 2009

The very thought of death…..

... scares us to death, sometimes. I returned to Bangalore by train on Sunday morning. The overwhelming station looked like a gathering of veiled people. Everyone had covered their nose and mouth with surgical masks, handkerchiefs, small towels and what not. Some were using their hands to cover in absence of any piece of cloth. The entire station looked like a sea of people running for cover from a calamity. Though unsure of its usefulness I too used my handkerchief to protect myself.

Such is the effect of the prevailing H1N1 epidemic which has already claimed many lives. A cough or a sneeze is enough to make all eyes focus on you. A deep cough will make you an untouchable. Masks are selling like hot cakes. A chemist I know was proudly telling me that customers are ready to pay 4 or 5 times the value for the masks. He procures a stock of 100 masks everyday which gets sold in an hour or two. He continued saying that these masks are of no real use as they are ineffective in filtering the virus. The ones which actually do are more expensive and are not available at the moment. So effectively wearing these masks is more like a fashion statement than anything else.

H1N1 is not an incurable disease. There are drugs and treatment available for it. Also I heard that many people who died due to H1N1 had other previously existing complications like Asthma, diabetics etc. So I was wondering; Is all these hue and cry over the H1N1 really warranted? Or is it just a hype created by the media and people who are benefitted (companies which makes masks, sellers etc) by this flu scare? There is an article in today’s newspaper which says, on an average 13 people die every hour due to road accidents in India. You read it right; its 13 people every hour, which make it more than 300 people dying every day. But how many times do we see people following discipline on road? Thousands of people die every year due to cancer from cigarette smoking or alcohol abuse. In spite of knowing the ill effects of these carcinogens, people continue to use them and the user base is growing. Do we see the authorities banning cigarettes or containing the sale of alcohol?

There are actually many such killers out there which are steadily taking lives of people; in many cases innocent people such as in the case of passive smoking. But the similar hype and cry surrounding H1N1 seems to be missing in these cases. Maybe as smoking and alcohol abuse do not cause imminent death as in case of H1N1, the worry does not seem much. If only we start giving as much importance to these other killers also as we have given to H1N1, we can save a number of lives. Or probably since H1N1 is still new, it is attracting all attention!! The hype will be all over and people will treat it as yet another “common” killer after it has completely set in and the cure is commonly available.

It was raining all night and it was still raining when I stepped out of our house this morning. It was umbrellas and raincoats all around. One thing that was visibly missing, for a change, were the H1N1 masks!!

~Narendra V Joshi