- The SADC Ministers responsible for Health have issued a travel warning to regional citizens, saying with the recent reports of Swine Flu (H1N1) outbreaks, travelers should either postpone of avoid traveling to the affected areas.
In a statement released today, the SADC ministers raised concerns by the increase in the number of cases, deaths and the unusual age group affected, saying mainly healthy young adults were victims.
The statement warned that those having no choice but to travel to the affected areas should visit their nearest health facility for advice on precautionary measures to be taken. The statement further said secent travelers to the affected countries should be on the alert for Flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, nausea, coughing, fatigue, and general feeling of un-wellness, and visit the nearest health facility for immediate attention when such symptoms develop.
The ministers also said the region is working closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and that regional surveillance systems are on high alert. "We will continuously monitor the situation and use existing National and Regional Policies and Guidelines for the prevention and control of any outbreak in line with the SADC Highly Pathogenic Avian and Pandemic Human Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan," the ministers said in a statement.
The SADC ministers, further warned the public that while all regional measures were in place, they should be aware that there is no effective vaccine to prevent Swine Flu, though it is treatable, and that a Technical Team was in place to facilitate the availability of treatment in all SADC countries.
"As the SADC region we remain vigilant and committed to prevent and address any potential outbreak in the region," the ministers concluded.
Seeing the swine flu virus spread within a raft of countries, the WHO today raised the international alert to Phase 5 on a six-point scale, signalling an imminent pandemic and urging all countries to intensify preparations.
“This change to a higher alert is a signal to governments, to ministries of health and other ministries, to the pharmaceutical and the business communities, that certain actions now should be undertaken with extreme urgency,” Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO said in announcing the move during a teleconference with the world press.
“All countries should immediately now activate their pandemic surveillance plans,” she said, calling on all to remain on high alert for clusters of influenza-like illness and pneumonia. Early detection and treatment of cases, and infection controls in all health facilities were also critical, she said.
Alert Phase 5 meant that sustained human to human transmission had been confirmed, with widespread community outbreaks, in at least two regions, she said.
International cooperation was particularly important she maintained, warning that the H1N1 influenza virus has shown its “capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world.”
She added that she had reached out to donor countries and international organisations to mobilise resources, particularly for developing countries which are usually more vulnerable to the deadliest effects of pandemics.
Fortunately, she said the world is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than any time in history, due to the substantial investments made to prepare for the H5N1 virus, or avian flu. “For the first time in history, we can track the evolution of a pandemic in real time,” she said.
She thanked countries, particularly the United States, Canada and Mexico, for their strong cooperation with WHO since the outbreak became evident.
“New diseases, by definition, are poorly understood, and WHO and health authorities will not have all the answers immediately,” she acknowledged, while vowing, “But we will get them.”
The agency, she pledged, would continue tracking the virus at the epidemiological, clinical and biological levels, and make their information public as soon as it is analysed.
In an earlier teleconference, WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda said that there has been an increase in lab-confirmed cases - from 79 yesterday to 114 - reported in Canada, the US, Mexico, Israel, Spain, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
“It’s clear that the virus is spreading, and we don’t see any evidence of it slowing down at this point,” Mr Fukuda said.
He said that while preliminary results showed that the virus did originate in pigs, he stressed that there is no evidence that people are now getting sick from pigs or pork products.
He emphasised that experts are continuing to study the situation and that there are still unanswered questions - for example, it is currently unclear whether people, upon becoming infected, will develop mild or severe illness.
Yesterday, Mr Fukuda said that WHO is working to facilitate the process needed to develop a vaccine effective against the swine flu virus, which the agency noted could take around 4 to 6 months, plus more months to build up substantial stocks.
Meanwhile, today at the Security Council, which is holding an open debate on the situation of children caught up in armed conflict, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated his call for international unity on the swine flu outbreak.
“This really requires the whole international community’s cooperation, and I count on the leadership and commitment of not only the Council member States, but the whole international community,” he said.
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