NEW DELHI — India's health minister warned Friday that the country of nearly 1.2 billion people must brace for a "large-scale" swine flu pandemic.
Given the South Asian nation's size "we shall have to be prepared much more than any other country in the world", Ghulam Nabi Azad told a gathering of state health ministers in New Delhi.
"Until very recently, ours were imported cases, now we are reporting most cases which are indigenous cases," Azad said.
India must get ready "for a large scale pandemic", he said, accusing state governments of "forgetting their duty" and failing to do enough to combat the virus.
Blanket media coverage and a growing number of victims since the first Indian death from the A(H1N1) virus on August 3 has caused increasing panic in the country.
Azad said there had been 36 deaths so far in India. About 1,800 people have died worldwide since the influenza was first detected in April, according to the latest update from the World Health Organization (WHO) this week. The vast majority of those deaths have been recorded in the Americas.
The minister's warning came as WHO chief Margaret Chan on Friday urged governments to prepare for a likely second wave of swine flu cases.
Azad, who warned earlier in the week that swine flu was spreading in India "on a vast scale", has said private laboratories will be allowed to test for the virus to ease the strain on already overloaded government hospitals.
Swine flu concerns have led to the closure of many schools, fewer shoppers at malls, disruption of festivals and even delays in Bollywood movie screening debuts. Sales of face masks have soared.
Some experts have said the government has not done enough to reassure people and explain the dangers posed by the virus.
Swine flu deaths and infections are small in comparison to other diseases endemic in India where 1,173 people died from malaria in 2007. In the same year, 31,268 people died from tuberculosis.
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