WHO official supports H1N1 emergency
KABUL, 3 November 2009 (IRIN) - A UN World Health
Organization (WHO) official has backed the Afghan
government’s health emergency declaration which
involves a three-week closure of all schools and
universities in Afghanistan as a means of preventing
the spread of H1N1 influenza. He called it an
“appropriate and timely measure” to curb its spread.
“It was the right decision by the minister of
health as we see the number of H1N1 cases rising,”
Ahmed Abdul Rahman, WHO’s officer-in-charge in
Afghanistan, told IRIN on 3 November. The government
made the announcement on 1 November.
According to the Ministry of Education there are
over nine million children and students at schools,
colleges and universities in the country. All of them
will be required to stay at home from 2-23 November.
Afghanistan had reported over 320 H1N1 cases with
two deaths as of 3 November.
Some observers have suggested that the closure
declaration was designed to prevent protests against
President Karzai’s controversial re-election
announcement, made the following day.
“In a country where two mothers die every hour from
pregnancy-related complications, why is the suspected
death of only two patients from flu declared an
emergency?” asked an international aid worker in Kabul
who did not want to named.
“The disease was not widespread and cannot justify
a state of emergency in which the entire education
system is closed,” Kabir Ranjbar, a member of
parliament, told IRIN.
However, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH)
defended its decision and said the state of emergency
was in no way politically motivated.
“Countries like Ukraine, the USA and Mexico, which
are not in [the midst of] elections, have also
declared H1N1 emergencies and so has Afghanistan,”
Farid Raaid, MoPH’s spokesman, told IRIN.
“We are in the midst of at least three emergencies
namely security, political and now health,” said Ajmal
Samadi, director of the Kabul-based rights watchdog
Afghanistan Rights Monitor.
Six million at risk?
Health officials told IRIN over six million of the
country’s estimated 28 million people risked catching
H1N1. Pregnant women and children were particularly
vulnerable, they said.
“Through the health emergency we want to mitigate
the risks and prevent a major outbreak of H1N1 in the
country,” said Amir Ansari, an adviser to Health
Minister Mohammad Amin Fatimie.
The government has prepared a snap appeal for over
US$60 million to procure medication, such as Tamiflu
and seasonal flu vaccines, and undertake other
necessary measures to combat the disease, Ansari said.
The MoPH has also asked the World Health
Organization (WHO) for support and the provision of
over one million doses of Tamiflu, officials said.
Afghanistan only has one virology laboratory
capable of diagnosing the H1N1 virus but about 200
surveillance units have been established across the
country to quickly report suspicious flu cases. No
H1N1 vaccine is available yet but the health
authorities have received over 30,000 doses of tamiflu
tablets from WHO, according to the MOPH.
The H1N1 type of influenza was first reported in
Mexico in April 2009 and quickly spread to dozens of
countries around the world. Globally, over 440,000
cases of H1N1 and over 5,700 deaths were reported by
WHO as of 25 October.
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[This report does not necessarily
reflect the views of the United Nations]