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Swine flu panic shuts down 2,000 schools

Only one in five students at primary and secondary schools countrywide are girls, officials say
(Afif Sarhan/IRIN)

Panic over the possible spread of H1N1 influenza has prompted the closure of more than 2,000 schools in Iraq, according to officials.

 

Education Minister Khudhair Al-Khuzaie said the unauthorized closure of schools was “illegal and unprofessional” and blamed “exaggerated media reports that have created such a panic”.



“Over the past week, we diagnosed four cases of H1N1 influenza among school students in the southern province of Kut, then the number increased to 25 cases and that prompted us to quarantine and shut down the school [where the cases were detected],” said Ihsan Jaafar, a senior Health Ministry official.

 

A few days later, other cases were confirmed in six Baghdad schools. “We’ve also closed them and that brings the total number of schools closed based on decisions issued by the Health Ministry to seven,” Jaafar told IRIN.

 

“Unjustified panic” had prompted some officials in southern Iraq to close schools where no H1N1 cases had been detected, a measure “unacceptable to the Health Ministry,” Jaafar said.

 

On 20 October, two local officials in the southern provinces of Thi Qar and Kut said that nearly 2,500 schools and kindergartens would be closed to prevent the disease from spreading.



Muthana Hassan Mahdi of Kut education directorate said a five-day precautionary shutdown had been in force since 21 October in 950 schools and kindergartens.



Meanwhile, Hadi Al-Riyahi, a local health official, said 1,477 schools would be closed in Thi Qar for 10 days from 22 October.



Kut is 160km and Thi Qar is 320km south of Baghdad.

 

Precautionary measures



Schools should only be closed for a week if a teacher and 2-3 students have the disease, Jaafar said. Those infected would be quarantined and the school sterilized. Students and infected students' families would be closely monitored, he added.

 

Tamiflu stocks were sufficient for 300,000 cases; another batch of 150,000 doses was expected in the next few days, he said.



According to the Health Ministry, the total number of confirmed H1N1 cases in Iraq is 523, of whom 113 are Iraqis and the rest foreigners, including members of the US forces. The death toll stands at three.

 

Education Minister Al-Khuzaie said overcrowding due to a shortage of school buildings represented an increased risk factor. He said US$4 billion was needed to build more than 4,500 new schools to ease overcrowding in Iraq’s roughly 19,000 schools.

 

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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