Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 October 2009
Issue No. 969
Egypt
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Panic or prudence

It is the spread of rumours about swine flu, rather than the virus, that is exercising ministry spokesmen, reports Reem Leila

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Amid fears that a growing number of parents, worried about swine flu, will keep their children from school the Ministry of Education, in cooperation with the Ministry of Information, has increased the number of educational channels being broadcast. Schedules for the broadcast of educational programmes are available on the Ministry of Education websites www.moe.gov.eg or http://elearning.moe.gov.eg/tables/ index.html.

On 15 October, Egypt announced the closure of its first school in Cairo because of swine flu among its students. The Mere De Dieu School will close for two weeks after it was confirmed that four pupils had contracted the virus.

Adel Abdel-Ghaffar, official spokesman at the Ministry of Education, has denied rumours that there are plans to allow pupils to sit mid-term exams via the Internet.

"Only the curricula for primary, preparatory, secondary and technical education can be accessed on the ministry's websites without a password in a service that was launched on 19 October," said Abdel-Ghaffar. He stressed that mid-term exams will be held according to schedule and under the usual conditions.

On 17 October, the Ministry of Education announced that 12 educational channels -- six terrestrial, six satellite -- will air educational programmes. But claims by Minister of Education Yosri El-Gamal that the TV channels and online services will "effectively substitute for school" have yet to convince either pupils or their parents.

"In the event of any temporary suspension of school my only alternative will be to pay for private lessons," said Rabab Harhash, a mother of two primary students. Ten-year-old Malak Hisham agreed. "I won't be able to follow up properly with educational TV channels or the online service. What if I don't understand things? How can I ask the TV a question?"

Pupils will be able to download the curriculum from any of the ministry's websites and repeat the lesson until they understand, says Abdel-Ghaffar. "Also, they can access the question banks on the ministry's website where there are many test questions."

Abdel-Ghaffar also denied rumours that have proliferated via websites that plans are afoot to close schools from early December until the end of January.

According to the Cabinet's Information and Decision Support Centre's (IDSC) weekly report, school attendance figures for the past two weeks remain the same as last year, at 88 per cent. The total number of confirmed cases of swine flu among school students is 27, 11 in public schools and eight in private schools.

Last week's IDSC report estimated that 95 per cent of schools were implementing Health Ministry regulations regarding isolation rooms and cleaning up tools.

Meanwhile, Egypt's first batch of H1N1 vaccine is expected to arrive on 9 November. This is too late to inoculate hajj pilgrims, who are expected to leave the country for Saudi Arabia starting on 1 November.

"The Saudi authorities have announced that pilgrims from countries that receive batches of vaccine late will be exempted from the ten-day pre-travel inoculation requirement," said Abdel-Rahman Shahin, Ministry of Health spokesman.

Like the Ministry of Education's spokesman Shahin has been forced to refute rumours, in this case allegations that packets of Tamiflu had been destroyed after reaching their expiry dates.

"Imported doses of Tamiflu are in capsule form and expire five years from now. In a raw form the medication can last for up to 12 years," said Shahin. He also noted that "the ministry has received a letter from at least one multinational company notifying it that the Tamiflu expiry dates could be extended for another two years, a move approved by the European Medicine Agency."

The total number of H1N1 cases in Egypt has reached 1,092 after five new cases were confirmed on Sunday morning, 1,055 cases have survived the virus while the remaining patients are still hospitalised. Of the five new cases two are students, one is an Egyptian who had returned from Saudi Arabia and two are British.

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