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06.05.2009 Africa

African Governments gear up against Swine Flu response

By The Statesman
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The World Health Organization's Africa regional office has created a crisis management team to monitor the spread of influenza A/H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, as WHO raised the global influenza pandemic alert level to phase 5 - just short of a full pandemic.

In West Africa regional organisations and governments are diffusing flu prevention information and gearing up to cope in case of an outbreak. No case of the influenza A/H1N1 virus has been detected in the region to date.

Many countries are adapting contingency plans they had in place for H5N1, or avian flu.

At least two West African governments have banned pork imports in reaction to the H1N1 outbreak, while one is informing people that there is no threat from pork; WHO has said influenza viruses are not known to be transmissible to people through eating processed pork or other food products derived from pigs.

Regional
The Economic Community of West African States is drawing up a regional strategy, according to Adrienne Diop, ECOWAS commissioner of development and emergencies. One of the issues ECOWAS is studying is member countries" access to flu medication. The West African Health Organization located in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, will execute ECOWAS's eventual recommendations.

WHO's Africa regional office is working with countries to bolster their disease surveillance systems and strengthen contingency and preparedness plans, WHO regional director for Africa Luis Sambo said in a 30 April communiqué.

The regional office is strategically pre-positioning stockpiles of Tamiflu and personal protective equipment such as masks, as well as mapping laboratory and human resources capacity at country and regional levels, the statement said.

UN agencies are working on contingency plans with WHO as lead; World Food Programme will play a key role in logistics. The UN is working to spread awareness of how to prevent infection.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent has a USAID-funded humanitarian pandemic preparation project underway in six West African countries - Benin, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal, according to Hans Jurgen Ebbing, IFRC health and care coordinator in the West and Central Africa office. The project involves helping National Red Cross Societies develop civil society contingency plans. IFRC plans to accelerate the effort in order to cope with the H1N1 flu threat.

IFRC is also supporting national societies in 24 countries across West and Central Africa to help develop contingency plans and possible response plans. These will form part of government plans as societies are an auxiliary to government in emergency response. IFRC worldwide on 30 April launched an appeal for US$4.4 million to fund its response to the spread of H1N1.

World Vision is contacting health ministries in the seven West African countries in which it works (Chad, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone) to assist in raising public awareness without creating panic. "It is important to allow people to have appropriate information on this issue,” said Paul Sitnam, emergency response coordinator for West Africa.

Benin
The government has created an inter-ministerial crisis committee which to date has begun screening all arriving and departing passengers at airports, regardless of origin or destination. Government is distributing masks at the airport. The inter-ministerial committee is informing the public that it is safe to eat pork.

The country has 5,000 doses of Tamiflu; Benin would need at least three times that in the case of a pandemic, according to Onoré Djogbe, head of epidemiology in Health Ministry's sanitation office.

Cameroon
The Prime Minister on 28 April led an inter-ministerial meeting to discuss prevention measures. The government has created an inter-ministerial flu-watch committee, is reinforcing surveillance at air, maritime and land entry points and reinforcing stock of Tamiflu; the drug had been pre-positioned during the avian flu scare.

The Government is advising Cameroonians to put off trips to countries known to be infected if possible, or to follow strictly all health warnings in the country if travel is necessary.

The Centre Pasteur in Cameroon is a regional reference laboratory and is equipped to detect animal and human flu viruses, according to a communiqué by Jules Doret Ndongo, secretary general in the Prime Minister's office.

Cape Verde
Earlier this month the government approved a national pandemic contingency plan, which identifies risks, planned responses, prevention and financing. The plan covers natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions as well as various illnesses, including avian flu and cholera, according to Alberto Carlos Barbosa Fernandes, president of the National Civil Protection Service.

The Ministry of Health has an unspecified stock of Tamiflu and is working with the UN on how to purchase more if needed.

Health workers are taking the temperature of any travellers coming from affected countries, according to Jacqueline Perrera of the Health Ministry. Cape Verde has seen outbreaks in the past of African swine fever, a different virus that kills animals.

Côte d'Ivoire
The Government is distributing information leaflets to travellers at the airport and at border crossings, according to Health Ministry head of communications, Siméon N'da.

Specialists at the Institute of Public Hygiene will lead epidemiological monitoring. The National pharmacy has 11,000 doses of Tamiflu, according to N'da.

The Ministry of Health is communicating through the media to explain H1N1 flu and give guidance on hygiene and prevention.

Gabon
The Government has banned pork imports. Of concern is an ongoing strike by state health workers, with the workers suspending even minimum services as of 27 April.

GhanaThe Government has banned pork imports. Health screenings are underway at the main airport in the capital, Accra.

A committee is in place to coordinate a national response in case of an outbreak; all regional hospitals have been instructed to set up isolation wards.

Guinea Government health workers are surveying flu cases in the country's main hospitals, according to Hawa Touré of the Ministry of Health.

Liberia
Health authorities have convened an emergency meeting to formulate a contingency plan and have set up prevention and response committees to put it into action, according to Moses Pewu, senior health official.

Mali
National director of veterinary services, Kassim Diakité, says a national pandemic prevention plan currently in place to fight avian flu would be applied for any other flu outbreak.

Nigeria
Citizens are being advised to report any suspected cases to health authorities. The Ministry of Health says the government has strengthened surveillance at airports, ports and land borders.

Senegal
Health workers throughout the country have been put on alert and provided with masks. The Government is screening people with flu symptoms at airports, ports and borders; and diffusing public health messages. The Ministry of Health has set up a H1N1 flu information hotline.

Representatives of Agriculture and Health ministries, Office of National Security and the World Health Organization met on 29 April to form a task force to address any outbreak according to the Ministry of Health' spokesperson Abass Kamara.

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