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THE World Health Organisation says the full effect of the swine flu outbreak in Africa has yet to be seen.
The agency said this at a regional conference on the pandemic, earlier this week in Johannesburg.
"We are still learning about the severity of the Influenza A H1N1 2009 Pandemic. The impact in African populations has yet to be seen. We, therefore, need more knowledge about the epidemiological, clinical and virological characteristics of the disease," WHO regional director for Africa, Luis Gomes Sambo said.
The African region was the last to experience the pandemic among the six WHO regions and concerns are mounting about its potential effect.
"What is of concern to us as Africans is that, though the pandemic has spread to our continent last, we may be more severely affected by it," Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.
The concern is exacerbated by Africa's burden of disease.
"It is well-known that this continent has always been worst affected by any outbreak of communicable diseases - whether it is HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, one or more of the haemorragic fevers. It is, therefore, essential for all countries within the continent to ensure that we are adequately prepared for all of these," Motsoaledi said.
Sambo said the swine flu pandemic is "a new global public health issue of great concern", adding that, "efforts involving the WHO are mainly focused on mitigation of the effects of the pandemic through increased public awareness, preventative measures, case management, multi-sectoral response and global solidarity".
Motsoaledi is optimistic that Africa will be able to deal with the pandemic as it unfolds.
"What is of advantage for us is that we can learn from the experiences of others. Their experiences have shown that containing the virus is not possible and that resources are best spent on mitigating its effect on the community," Motsoaledi said.
The WHO said South Africa accounts for a higher number of reported cases in Africa. But it cautioned that the actual number, including unreported cases, may be higher in other African countries.
"South Africa represents about 80percent of reported cases. We believe that the situation may be more serious. The trend is on the increase in Africa," Sambo said.
"South Africa is among the countries with better facilities, including laboratories for diagnostics. This may also be one of the reasons why we have more cases reported from South Africa."
The WHO and the department appealed to the public to help in managing the pandemic by prasticing basic hygiene, which includes good etiquette when coughing or sneezing, and regular washing of hands.