News Outlets Examine International Efforts To Contain H1N1

A WHO official on Tuesday backed the Afghan government’s decision to declare H1N1 (swine flu) a health emergency, forcing the closure of all schools in the country for three weeks in an effort to contain the virus, IRIN reports. The effort, which began Monday, will keep the estimated nine million students who attend schools, colleges and universities in the county at home from November 2-23, according to the news service.

Some are skeptical of the measure: “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 spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“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 the Afghan health minister. “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 news service writes. Additionally, the government has reached out to the WHO for support (11/3).

The number of people in Afghanistan infected with H1N1 has jumped from 350 to nearly 700, since Sunday, Afghan Health Ministry spokesperson Farid Raaid announced Wednesday, Reuters reports. “Seven more people have also been killed by the virus since the first death was recorded last week, [he] said,” the news service writes (Salahuddin, 11/4).

WHO Says It’s Likely Flu Cases In Ukraine Are H1N1, Surrounding Countries Tighten Borders 

The “WHO said Tuesday that it was valid to assume that most of the cases of influenza reportedly sweeping through Ukraine were caused by the pandemic A(H1N1) virus,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Laboratory testing in Ukraine has confirmed pandemic H1N1 influenza virus in samples taken from patients in two of the most affected regions,” according to the organization. The AFP continues: “The highest rates of ‘acute respiratory illness/influenza-like illness’ were found in western areas, while they were also increasing rapidly around the capital Kiev…” (11/3).

Russia and Slovakia took measures to tighten their borders with Ukraine on Tuesday, in response to growing fears over the country’s H1N1 outbreak, the Associated Press reports. “Slovakia, which lies on Ukraine’s western border, closed two of its five border crossings with Ukraine to keep the infection from spreading. In Russia, where there have been 14 confirmed swine flu deaths, the Health Ministry said it would examine anyone crossing the border from Ukraine and quarantine people with severe symptoms,” the news service reports.

According to Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, “the number of deaths from the flu has climbed to 71 since the outbreak struck last week in the western city of Ternopil,” the AP writes. However, “blood tests have yet to determine how many of these deaths were from the new and aggressive H1N1 strain” (Shuster/Grits, 11/3).

ScienceInsider Interviews WHO Official About H1N1 Vaccine Distribution To Developing Countries

Science’s blog “ScienceInsider” explores the “complex operation” of distributing H1N1 vaccines to “cash-strapped countries” in an interview with Marie-Paule Kieny, head of WHO’s Initiative for Vaccine Research (Enserink, 11/3).

South African Government Looks For More Than 1M Doses Of H1N1 Vaccine

Times LIVE reports on the South African government’s ongoing efforts to ensure more than one million H1N1 vaccines are available before the virus returns next winter. According to the newspaper, the South African health department is negotiating with three pharmaceutical companies to acquire the vaccine (Lekotjolo, 11/3).

Saudi Arabia Approves H1N1 Vaccine Ahead Of Hajj

Reuters reports on the announcement by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority Tuesday to approve one of the H1N1 vaccines produced by GlaxoSmithKline ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage next month. The article also includes details on school closures in Mongolia and Korea aimed at containing the virus (Fox, 11/4).

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