International Health Experts Hold Two-Day H1N1 Meeting

WHO leaders and international health ministers met Thursday for a two-day meeting in Cancun, Mexico, to share the lessons learned from the spread of H1N1 (swine flu) (Xinhua, 7/3) and strategies for “battling the pandemic,” the AP/Washington Post reports (Rodriguez, 7/2).

“We need to plan for the most extreme scenarios as well as for the likely scenarios,” said Thomas Frieden, director of CDC. “Influenza is perhaps the most unpredictable of infectious diseases.” The Houston Chronicle writes: “Hundreds of specialists from 40 countries meeting at a posh beach side resort in this tourist mecca were plotting strategies for what many dread could become an outbreak rivaling a 1918 flu pandemic that killed tens of millions of people” (Althaus, 7/3).

Health officials chose to hold their meeting in Cancun “to highlight the country’s success in controlling its epidemic with a five-day national shutdown of schools and businesses in May,” even as the country starts “to see an increase in swine flu cases in isolated areas,” leading many to fear “the country may see a resurgence, especially when its winter flu season begins in November,” the AP/Washington Post reports (Rodriguez, 7/2).

During the international summit Friday, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan commended Mexico on its role in helping to slow the spread of H1N1, allowing other countries to prepare for the virus, the AP/ reports. “Mexico gave the world an early warning, and it also gave the world a model of rapid and transparent reporting, aggressive control measures, and generous sharing of data and samples,” Chan said (Rodriguez, 7/4).

WHO , U.S. To Donate Antivirals To Poor Countries

The WHO on Thursday promised poor nations in the Americas would receive adequate supplies of antivirals to help fight the spread of H1N1, AFP/ reports. “The Americas have been the hardest hit by the disease, with the United States, Mexico, Canada and Argentina suffering the vast majority of the world’s fatalities, according to WHO figures,” the news service writes (7/3).

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Thursday that the U.S. will donate 420,000 treatment courses of the antiviral Tamiflu to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the Americas branch of the WHO, Reuters reports. Reuters writes: “[HHS] said treating and preventing the virus helps the security of the region, as well as that of the U.S.” (7/2).

Also during the summit, Chan announced the organization would soon distribute the 5.6 million doses of the antiviral Tamiflu – donated by the pharmaceutical company Roche – to developing countries, the AFP/ writes (7/3).

A Japanese patient became the first in the country with Tamiflu-resistant H1N1, Japanese health officials said Thursday, Reuters reports. However, “they said the mutated virus does not appear to be spreading and they see no immediate threat to public health,” Reuters writes. A patient in Denmark was found to have Tamiflu-resistant H1N1 last week (Kubota, 7/2).

Developing Countries Access To H1N1 Vaccine Dependent Upon ‘Political Goodwill,’ WHO Says

Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general, said on Friday during the H1N1 summit that guaranteeing developing countries have access to an H1N1 vaccine “remains a ‘critical question’,” dependent upon “political goodwill,” AFP/ reports. Though vaccine manufacturers hope to have an H1N1 vaccine available by the fall, “Cuauhtemoc Ruiz, coordinator for the Pan-American Health Organization, said … it could be up to a year before ‘sufficient quantities’ are produced.” Even if methods to speed up H1N1 vaccine production prove viable, “there are fears that most of the stock that will be produced has already been reserved by the U.S. and European countries,” AFP/ writes (AFP/, 7/4).

AFP/ reports: “‘The producers of the vaccine have already committed 90 percent to high income countries, where some 893 million people live, and 10 percent to countries like China and Russia, which have some capacity to produce some of the vaccines,’ [Jon Kim] Andrus, [a PAHO expert] said during a closed-door summit session, according to an assistant who spoke to AFP. ‘If they began marketing the vaccine right now, developing countries would not get any,’ Andrus said.” The article outlines the WHO’s “two-pronged strategy” for avoiding developing countries from being left out of receiving an H1N1 vaccine (Gonzalez, 7/4).

China Seeks To Keep H1N1 From Spreading To Rural Regions

The Wall Street Journal examines how China is attempting to prevent the spread of H1N1 from urban areas to rural areas. “Great discrepancies exist in China’s health-care coverage between more-developed urban areas and the poorer countryside. That disparity, combined with a floating population of 150 million to 200 million migrant workers, who often have little or no access to medical care, mean health authorities worry that the new H1N1 virus could spread much farther and faster,” the newspaper writes (Chan, 7/3).

CDC Closely Watching African Slums For Signs Of H1N1

Public Radio International examines the CDC’s close surveillance of signs that H1N1 has spread into Africa. Of the cases of H1N1 worldwide, “fewer than 10 are in Sub-Saharan Africa,” according to PRI. The article mentions how health officials are keeping a close watch on the nation’s slums, where crowding and poor sanitation can create “an incubator for illness” (Crossan, 7/5).

UN Agency Calls African Pandemic Preparedness ‘Relatively Inactive’

“Although some countries within East Africa and the Horn region have scaled up their influenza A (H1N1) contingency plans, overall pandemic preparedness remains ‘relatively inactive’, a U.N. agency has said, as the first cases were reported in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda,” IRIN reports (7/2).

New Study Sheds Light On Why H1N1 Is Not Spreading More Rapidly

“With swine flu continuing to spread around the world, researchers say they have found the reason it is – so far – more a series of local blazes than a wide-raging wildfire,” the AP/ reports. A study published on Friday in the journal Science reveals H1N1 “has a protein on its surface that is not very efficient at binding with receptors in people’s respiratory tracts.” However, “flu viruses are known to mutate rapidly, the research team noted, so this one must be watched closely in case it changes to become easier to spread” (Schmid, 7/3). A full list of country cases and deaths is available here (WHO Influenza A(H1N1) – update 58, 7/6).

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