HEALTH: Global Response Needed for Global (Flu) Challenge

Published on IPS, by Emilio Godoy, July 06, 2009.

MEXICO CITY, Jul 2 (IPS) – Health ministers and representatives of 43 countries and the World Health Organisation (WHO) began to meet Thursday in the Mexican resort city of Cancun to discuss a common strategy to curb the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.

“We have to review our history, what we did and how we did it, what we did not do and why, with all of us recognising the actions and the results achieved, in a mature, objective manner,” said Mexican Health Secretary Ángel Córdova at the high-level meeting on “influenza A(H1N1): lessons learned and preparedness”. 

The H1N1 virus, popularly known as swine flu, emerged in Mexico in April and has caused 337 deaths and more than 80,000 confirmed cases in 121 countries, according to the latest WHO update.

The United States heads the list, with 21,449 confirmed cases, followed by Mexico, with 10,984 cases, including 119 deaths.

But the disease, which the WHO declared a full-fledged pandemic on Jun. 11, is now spreading fast in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, fuelled by the southern hemisphere winter.

In her keynote speech, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said “we have good reason to believe that this pandemic will be of moderate severity, at least in its early days …

… “The world is awaiting the H1N1 flu vaccine as a necessary social input for protecting global health,” said Córdova. “We will continue promoting actions in favour of equal access to and rational availability of the vaccine, and the widest possible coverage.”

Weeks ago, Mexico sent the WHO swine flu samples and clinical data, to contribute to the search for a vaccine.

“The vaccine is necessary, but it will not prevent the disease. Besides, it will be a huge earner for the drug giants,” said Ribeiro.

Countries where the flu is spreading have purchased millions of doses of the anti-flu drug oseltamivir, produced under the brand names Tamiflu and Zanamivir.

But two patients, in Denmark and Japan, turned out to be resistant to Tamiflu – an indication of the virus’s capacity to mutate.

Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq urged the meeting to reach an agreement with a view to tackling the challenge that will be faced when the northern hemisphere winter starts, in October. Experts predict a new outbreak in North America during the winter months. (END/2009). (full text).

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