Remarks by the Minister of Health, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi on the H1N1 Influenza pandemic

Thursday, August 13, 2009

As part of its regular Cabinet meetings, Cabinet met yesterday and among the issues discussed was the current H1N1 Influenza pandemic. Cabinet decided to mount an enhanced national response to build on what has already been done so far by the Department, the Department Education, NICD and the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Country Office. 

As the lead Department, the Department of Health wishes to outline what it is doing in this regard. 

But before coming to that, we wish to recap the present problem:

As we have previously communicated, the pandemic started in Mexico and the USA in April this year and rapidly spread to 166 countries globally with a cumulative number of 174 913 laboratory confirmed cases and 1 411 confirmed deaths. 

In South Africa, to date we have 1 910 confirmed cases with 3 deaths. 

On 6 July the WHO described the spread of the pandemic within affected countries and to new countries as inevitable and largely unstoppable. Fortunately though, while this may the case they noted that the virus is largely mild and not virulent at all. Hence they believe that countries should rather take steps to mitigate the impact on the communities.

The additional measures from the Department of Health are as follows: 

Letters co-signed by the Ministers of Health, Basic Education and Higher Education will be send to all school principals, rectors/principals of institutions of higher learning. These letters will describe the challenges that we face and advise school principals on what action they need to take. This will further enhance the communiqu, sent out so far. 

The Minister of Health will also be sending personal letters to leaders of all major faith groups. In these letters the Minister will call upon religious leaders to share information on the virus with their congregations.

Similar letters will also be sent to organised labour and organised business. 

We recognise the need to also better inform Members of Parliament, NCOP, Provincial Legislatures and Premiers and all councillors in municipalities. To this effect, letters from the Minister on their roles will also be send out in the new future. The same letters will be sent to all the traditional leaders, CDWs and social workers. 

In addition to letters described above, the Minister will also be recording advertorials this afternoon that will be broadcast on national TV and radio and community radio stations.

Finally, pamphlets and posters will be distributed in local communities in the local languages, at taxi ranks, shopping malls and other public places etc to further spread information on the virus, the symptoms and what we need to do to ensure mitigation of its impact.

At present we have a functional hotline for health workers who may have queries. This is operated by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases. In addition, we shall have a shared call number operational by Wednesday next week for members of the general public who have queries or concerns.

Let me remind you of the symptoms of H1N1 influenza. These can be divided into mild, moderate and severe. 

Mild symptoms include: runny or blocked nose; fever; muscle aches and pain; general feeling of unwellness and cough.

The overwhelming majority of people have mild symptoms and will not need any specialised medical care and we believe nothing should happen to them. Such symptoms should be treated as is the case other influenza-like symptoms.

However, if mild symptoms develop in people with chronic heart or lung disease, pregnant women or people living with HIV and AIDS, these people are advised to seek medical care immediately.

Moderate symptoms include: mild symptoms plus shortness of breath; chest pain; persistent vomiting and diarrhoea and signs of dehydration.

Severe symptoms include mild and moderate symptoms plus signs of respiratory distress, blue lips and other parts of the body and severe drowsiness and loss of consciousness.

Anyone with moderate or severe symptoms should immediately seek medical attention.

Experience throughout the world has shown that closures of learning institutions, and other such places such as shopping malls has not been effective in stemming the spread of the disease instead it causes social disruptions. What should rather happen is that any learner or teacher with mild symptoms should stay at home. If there is large scale infection the two relevant Departments will meet and decide on what course of action should be embarked upon.

Enquiries: Fidel Hadebe, spokesperson for Health: 079 5173333 

(Issued by GCIS)