African countries are preparing for the possibility that the H1N1 flu virus could expand in the continent, which already is experiencing epidemics of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports.
There have been no confirmed cases of the flu virus in Africa, but some experts predict the disease could affect already unstable health systems and result in a high death toll. People living with HIV are considered to be at a heightened risk of the flu strain because of their potentially compromised immune systems. People in rural areas with limited or no access to health facilities also are considered vulnerable.
The AP/Chronicle reports that although much attention is focused on the H1N1 flu virus -- which has affected about 1,600 people in more than 20 countries -- thousands of people in Africa die daily of preventable and treatable causes. David Sanders, professor of public health at the University of the Western Cape, said, "Why isn't there such an emergency mobilization against diarrheal diseases, which kill 2.5 million children a year?" He added, "One can't help but wonder if there isn't a North-South divide expressing itself here." Eric Goemaere with Medecins Sans Frontieres said that countries such as South Africa face "several health emergencies on a regular basis and we have few resources to deal with them." He continued, "We just don't have the luxury to build up stocks of" the flu drug Tamiflu when "we have lots of other priorities."
Burkina Faso's government does not have Tamiflu in stock but has sent a request to the World Health Organization, according to Ousmane Badolo, head of the health ministry's department of epidemiologic surveillance. Other countries do not have Tamiflu stocks or adequate flu surveillance but are taking other precautions against the spread of the virus, the AP/Chronicle reports. Health authorities in Zambia have placed doctors and epidemiologists at border check-points and international airports, and Uganda's health ministry at airports and border posts is examining anyone who has visited a country that has reported H1N1 cases. In addition, Ethiopia's ministry of health has prepared hospitals and regional health bureaus, as well as set up an examination center and a quarantine unit at the main international airport, according to spokesman Ahmed Emano (Nullis, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/5).