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Serum dearth blocks blood tests

It’s all but war between the state health department and the School of Tropical Medicine (STM) over the management of SARS cases in the city. Over a month has passed since the health department had called an urgent meeting with STM experts to discuss the modalities of treating SARS cases in Calcutta. Senior health department officials said STM would be earmarked as one of the centres for testing blood samples of suspected SARS patients, apart from the National Virology Institute of Pune.

“We have formed an expert committee, comprising top specialists of the city, and since we have basic equipment in place, we will also help Beleghata Infectious Diseases (ID) Hospital deal with cases,” STM director Jayshree Mitra said. The STM requested the health department to make available to it several reagents and serums for testing blood samples of suspected SARS patients. “But the government is in no mood to comply with our requests,” STM sources said. They said that the STM could have become the nodal agency to test SARS blood samples in its laboratory, but could only wait and watch.

“A lot of time would have been saved if blood samples were tested at the STM laboratory. But how could we possibly do it when the testing material is not made available to us'” asked a senior STM official.

On Sunday, health department officials held an urgent meeting at Writers’ Buildings to discuss their course of action, including ways to combat the disease. Surprisingly, the STM figured prominently in the meeting, where health department officials rued the fact that precious time was lost after a blood sample was sent to Pune for testing.

Later in the evening, director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee said the government would make all the necessary serums available to the STM. “We have asked for all reagents, so that STM can also test blood samples. They will receive them in a day or two,” he added.

But STM officials say they need more reassurance, for they have yet to receive the minutes of the key meeting at Writers’ Buildings, held earlier this month to combat SARS.

“The minutes of the meeting have not reached us yet, but I do not wish to comment on that further,” Jayshree Mitra said. STM officials say a team of respiratory disease experts was ready to assist ID Hospital officials when the first SARS suspect, Sriram Nigam, was taken there. “They did not even bother to check with us,” a specialist commented.

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