Swine flu fear hits Africa

African nations are scrambling to prevent swine flu from reaching a continent already struggling with the burden of Aids and malaria, fearing an outbreak could wreak much more devastation than in North America or Europe.

African nations are scrambling to prevent swine flu from reaching a continent already struggling with the burden of Aids and malaria, fearing an outbreak could wreak much more devastation than in North America or Europe.

There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Africa, and medical workers have stepped up surveillance at airports and border posts although funds for such efforts are limited. If worst fears are realised, experts say the disease could collapse weak health systems and take a huge human toll.

About 22million people are living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, and their weakened immune systems could make them vulnerable to swine flu.

"People living with HIV-Aids would be much affected by the disease because their immune system is already weak," said Dr Sam Zaramba, director of health services in Uganda.

The threat of swine flu also comes as southern African countries are heading into winter when even seasonal influenza causes sickness and death worsened by poverty, lack of decent shelter and food and overcrowding.

Swine flu has killed 26 people in Mexico and two people in the United States. Although the number of deaths is low, there are fears that if the virus spreads, it could mutate into a more dangerous form and that there could be a second, more lethal wave.

And yet, as global attention focuses on swine flu - which has infected more than 1600 people in more than 20 countries - thousands of Africans die unseen and unnoticed every day of preventable and treatable diseases. - Sapa

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