SADC on high alert following outbreak of swine flu

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Harare - Health ministers of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are advising travellers in the region to postpone journeys to areas affected by swine flu, Influenza A (H1N1), as a precautionary measure.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the SADC ministers said the flu, which had affected more than 1 000 people in 21 countries across the world and claimed more than 27 lives, was a real threat to the region.

"Unless necessary, all travellers are advised to avoid or postpone travel to affected areas. In the event of travelling to the affected areas, travellers should visit the nearest health facility for more advice on precautionary measures to be taken," the ministers said.

The ministers, who expressed concern over the increase in the number of cases, deaths and the unusual age group most hit by the pandemic, issued their advisory at a time when South Africa has reported two cases of the virus, which started in Mexico two weeks ago.

There are no other serious cases that have been reported in the region including Zimbabwe but there were fears that the disease would spread.

"Travellers to the affected countries are advised to be on the alert for flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, nausea, coughing, fatigue and general feeling of un-wellness," warned the ministers.

The SADC was working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and surveillance systems had been put on high alert, they added.

Regional members are signatory to the SADC Highly Pathogenic Avian and Pandemic Human Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan that ensures effective prevention and control of any outbreak.

Member countries have epidemic preparedness and response plans and teams in place in case of any outbreak. No effective vaccine to prevent swine flu has yet to be found, and this has particularly prompted authorities to put in place strict precautionary measures.

The disease is, however, treatable, and the SADC has put in place a technical team to facilitate the availability of treatment in all SADC countries.

"We remain vigilant and committed to prevent and address any potential outbreak in the region," the ministers said.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan has been quoted in international media as saying there was no indication yet that the world was facing a situation similar to that of 1918 when a flu pandemic wiped out 50 million people.

Ms Chan, however, told western media the virus could re-emerge in months ahead "with a vengeance". "I'm not predicting the pandemic will blow up, but if I miss it and we do not prepare, I fail," she said.