Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 January 2010
Issue No. 982
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A brief interlude?

Swine flu infection rates fell in the last two weeks, though officials warn the drop could be temporary, reports Reem Leila

The Ministry of Health announced last week that measures to detect swine flu at Egyptian ports of entry are to be cancelled because they are failing to halt the spread of the virus.

Some 950 new swine flu cases were reported last week, raising the total number of cases in Egypt to 15,036 and fatalities to 232 since the virus first appeared last June. The figures include 5,388 cases among school pupils and 835 university students. The recovery rate among students is 97.8 per cent.

According to a recent Cabinet Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC) report 80 per cent of H1N1 deaths were among patients with chronic underlying health problems.

Abdel-Rahman Shahin, official spokesman at the Ministry of Health, points out that the infection ratio began to decrease in the last two weeks and that confirmed cases of H1N1 are dropping.

"The daily death rate during the last two weeks of last month and the first week of January ranged between seven and 10 cases per day. Now the daily death rate is between three to five cases," said Shahin. He did, however, warn that the figures could increase in the coming month.

"The ministry is taking all necessary precautionary measures to limit the number of cases infected with the virus," he added.

The Health Ministry is launching a public awareness campaign informing people how best to deal with patients infected with the swine flu.

"Starting next week, Tamiflu will be available on the market at LE70 per pack. Tamiflu syrup, which is prescribed for children, will be sold under the trade name of Taminil at LE70 for a large bottle and LE35 for a small one," said Shahin.

The 10-day vaccination campaign for primary school students, begun on 3 January, saw 25,000 out of Egypt's 2.1 million students inoculated. Despite the poor figures Shahin insists, "we cannot consider the campaign as a failure", though he concedes "people refrained from giving their children the vaccine due to the wrong and false information in the mass media".

The IDSC report confirmed that no deaths have taken place as a result of the vaccination and re-assured the public that the vaccine is completely safe.

In its latest H1N1 pandemic report, issued on 15 January, the World Health Organisation (WHO) singled out Egypt.

"The most intense areas of pandemic influenza virus transmission currently are in parts of North Africa, South Asia, and east and southeastern Europe," the report said. "In North Africa, limited data suggest that transmission of pandemic influenza virus remains active throughout the region, particularly in Morocco, Algeria and Egypt."

In the Middle East the report cites 64,044 confirmed infections and 1,400 deaths. Regional fatalities have been concentrated in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, Turkey and Syria, with 124, 81, 147, 415, 127 deaths respectively.

According to Nasr El-Sayed, deputy health minister for preventive disease, Egypt will import three million doses of swine flu vaccine from Glaxo Smith-Kline.

"On Sunday, 478,000 doses of vaccine arrived at Cairo International Airport as part of the campaign to vaccinate pregnant women. Officials from the Ministry of Health and Glaxo were present to receive the delivery," he said.

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