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Namibia: prepping for H1N1 flu outbreak

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  • Namibia: prepping for H1N1 flu outbreak


    Nam prepping for H1N1 flu outbreak

    A NATIONAL preparedness and response plan for the H1N1 flu, also known as swine flu, will be finalised by the end of this week.

    The plan, which outlines the nature and characteristics of the virus and provides a comprehensive action plan in responding to the threat of an epidemic, was developed by a subcommittee of the National Health Emergency Management Committee.

    But while the plan ? developed under the leadership of WHO epidemiologist Dr Pascal Mkanda, in the country for three weeks at the request of Health Minister Richard Kamwi ? clearly lays out the requirements for national preparedness, it also highlights a number of aspects in preparing for a potential outbreak of the flu that have not been carried out yet.

    Key amongst these are the community awareness campaign and capacity building efforts ? both of which still have to be completed.
    While a public awareness leaflet has been designed, with the decision to print 500 000, the translation and printing of the leaflets still have to be done.

    Progress that has been made includes the printing of leaflets that the City of Windhoek committed itself to printing for its residents, with plans to begin distribution by Tuesday.
    In addition, the 500 000 travellers? information cards are also still to be printed, despite having been finalised last week already.

    This in itself is one of the greatest concerns for the committee, as travellers are currently the most at-risk group.
    The WHO said yesterday that nearly 10 000 cases of swine flu have been confirmed in 40 countries, and 79 people are known to have died from the new virus.

    Although in Africa only two suspected cases have been reported in South Africa, the threat is real in that Namibia is a popular tourist destination, with the peak tourism season beginning next month.

    At the meeting yesterday, Mkanda stressed that the travellers? cards should be printed and distributed to the various ports of entry as soon as possible, so that travellers arriving in the country are aware of what to do and who to report to, should they experience flu symptoms.
    Also behind schedule is the printing of case definitions to enhance the detection of the flu; the designation of sentinel sites for reporting, monitoring and managing the flu; training identified health personnel in responding to an outbreak; and the identification and training of relevant ministries, departments and sectors to be sensitised and to sensitise the public on the flu.

    But while much remains to be done in responding to a potential outbreak of the flu, the NHEMC, under the chairmanship of Dr Jack Vries, should also get credit where it is due.

    The committee, which was reactivated early this month by Kamwi, has already re-established committees at the regional and district level to monitor developments and communicate them to health personnel, and surveillance procedures are in place for the reporting of suspected cases.
    In addition, 20 000 doses of Tamiflu antiviral medicine, 200 000 surgical masks and 750 testing swabs have been ordered. The Tamiflu is expected to arrive by Monday, while some of the masks and swabs have already been received.

    Specimen collection, handling and transportation systems have also been set in place should a case be suspected, and the committee is in communication with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa, which has committed itself to testing specimens free of charge.

    Public awareness material, though not distributed, has also been compiled and finalised, and distribution numbers per region have been decided upon; and media are also informed of the committee?s meetings to gather information for public updates.

    What now remains most pressing is for co-ordination efforts to be solidified, and for clinicians, described as the ?frontliners? in the response to the flu, to be better informed so that they are able to report back accurately to surveillance officials.

    The response plan is to be finalised at the committee?s meeting on Friday, and printed next week for distribution to regional directors, committees for public health emergencies, medical officers, policymakers, and other concerned players in the flu response.