AFGHANISTAN: Swine flu “getting closer”

KABUL, 20 May 2009 (IRIN) - The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has given 300,000 Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) capsules to Afghanistan to help it respond to a possible outbreak of influenza A(H1N1), commonly known as swine flu.

“The virus is getting closer to Afghanistan,” Deputy Health Minister Faizullah Kakar told reporters in Kabul on 19 May, noting that at least one A(H1N1) infection had been confirmed in India on 13 May.

Despite laboratory tests on 133 suspected flu cases, thus far influenza A(H1N1) has not been detected in Afghanistan, according to the Health Ministry; nor has it been reported in neighbouring Iran or Pakistan.

The 30,360 adult courses of Tamiflu capsules (costing US$500,000) will be pre-positioned in all 34 provinces and made available to patients for free.

“Oseltamivir is a very effective medicine,” Kakar said.

The Health Ministry has also advised private pharmaceutical companies to import Oseltamivir and other types of antiviral medicines.

Swine flu, which was first reported in Mexico in April 2009, has been detected in some 40 countries. To date over 8,800 cases of the virus have been officially reported, and 74 people have died, according to WHO’s latest update.

Surveillance system

The Health Ministry said a strong surveillance system had been set up, including diagnostic laboratories in Kabul, and 134 influenza monitoring and reporting centres in the 34 provinces.

“A strengthened surveillance system, coupled with strong collaboration among health partners, is one of the keys in facing the challenge of this new disease,” WHO country representative Peter Graaff was quoted in a Health Ministry press release as saying.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) appeared to back this up in a press briefing on 18 May: “Preparations against the new disease have been stronger than in any other emergency situation the country has gone through in the past years.”

Despite such assurances, poor public awareness about the disease (in part due to high levels of illiteracy) is a major challenge which could make the country’s estimated 27-30 million people vulnerable to an outbreak, health experts say.

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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