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