Africa easy target for flu

POVERTY, disease and overburdened health systems make Africa an easy target for swine flu. Health experts say the virus will be difficult to track on thecontinent.

Africa is the last continent to be hit by H1N1, which has killed more than 1000 people in the world since it first hit Mexico in April.

Africa's death toll remains small, with six killed in South Africa, three in Mauritius and one in Egypt.

Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Namibia and Swaziland also have confirmed cases, but experts say H1N1 could be spreading undetected in more countries, due to a lack of medical facilities across Africa.

"The impact of the pandemic will be obscured by under or lack of reporting," said Ed Rybicki, a virologist at the University of Cape Town.

Africa is already affected by immune-weakening illnesses such as Aids, making countries more susceptible to new viruses.

"Malnutrition and other diseases of poverty mean that infected people have a worse prognosis for any kind of flu," said Rybicki.

The world's poorest continent also lacks the money to effectively combat H1N1.

World Health Organisation regional director Luis Gomes Sambo warned last week that the WHO had a more than R249million shortfall in its African response plan.

The WHO has set up a crisis management team in Brazzaville to help countries to monitor the disease and to ensure that cases are detected early.

This team will have support centres in Zimbabwe, Gabon and Burkina Faso.

Southern African countries have been referring suspected cases to a laboratory in South African for testing because many countries have no equipment to do the tests themselves.

Sambo said the sub-Saharan region was prone to recurrent epidemics such as hemorrhagic fevers, meningitis and water-borne diseases, making it an easy target for new infections.

"Sub-Saharan Africa is hosting 66percent of the total burden of HIV-Aids, 31 percent of tuberculosis and 86percent of the total burden of malaria," Sambo told a regional conference on the pandemic.

The South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the Health Department have set up a call centre where people can register their concerns.

"Right now, we do not have a vaccine for the virus and people are advised against taking any form of medication without being sick," said the institute's spokesperson Lucille Blumberg. - Sapa-AFP