A UN World Health Organization (WHO) official has backed the Afghan government’s health emergency declaration which involves a three-week closure of all schools and universities in Afghanistan as a means of preventing the spread of H1N1 influenza. He called it an “appropriate and timely measure” to curb its spread.
“It was the right decision by the minister of health as we see the number of H1N1 cases rising,” Ahmed Abdul Rahman, WHO’s officer-in-charge in Afghanistan, told IRIN on 3 November. The government made the announcement on 1 November.
According to the Ministry of Education there are over nine million children and students at schools, colleges and universities in the country. All of them will be required to stay at home from 2-23 November.
Afghanistan had reported over 320 H1N1 cases with two deaths as of 3 November.
Some observers have suggested that the closure declaration was designed to prevent protests against President Karzai’s controversial re-election announcement, made the following day.
“In a country where two mothers die every hour from pregnancy-related complications, why is the suspected death of only two patients from flu declared an emergency?” asked an international aid worker in Kabul who did not want to named.
“The disease was not widespread and cannot justify a state of emergency in which the entire education system is closed,” Kabir Ranjbar, a member of parliament, told IRIN.
However, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) defended its decision and said the state of emergency was in no way politically motivated.
|In a country where two mothers die every hour from pregnancy-related complications, why is the suspected death of only two patients from flu declared an emergency?|
“Countries like Ukraine, the USA and Mexico, which are not in [the midst of] elections, have also declared H1N1 emergencies and so has Afghanistan,” Farid Raaid, MoPH’s spokesman, told IRIN.
“We are in the midst of at least three emergencies namely security, political and now health,” said Ajmal Samadi, director of the Kabul-based rights watchdog Afghanistan Rights Monitor.
Six million at risk?
Health officials told IRIN over six million of the country’s estimated 28 million people risked catching H1N1. Pregnant women and children were particularly vulnerable, they said.
“Through the health emergency we want to mitigate the risks and prevent a major outbreak of H1N1 in the country,” said Amir Ansari, an adviser to Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatimie.
The government has prepared a snap appeal for over US$60 million to procure medication, such as Tamiflu and seasonal flu vaccines, and undertake other necessary measures to combat the disease, Ansari said.
The MoPH has also asked the World Health Organization (WHO) for support and the provision of over one million doses of Tamiflu, officials said.
Afghanistan only has one virology laboratory capable of diagnosing the H1N1 virus but about 200 surveillance units have been established across the country to quickly report suspicious flu cases. No H1N1 vaccine is available yet but the health authorities have received over 30,000 doses of tamiflu tablets from WHO, according to the MOPH.
The H1N1 type of influenza was first reported in Mexico in April 2009 and quickly spread to dozens of countries around the world. Globally, over 440,000 cases of H1N1 and over 5,700 deaths were reported by WHO as of 25 October.