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H1N1 Swine Flu Cases Increasing in Southern Hemisphere

  • Lisa Schlein

A Senior World Health Organization Official confirms the H1N1 Flu pandemic appears to have peaked in North America and Europe. He says the center of increasing pandemic activity has shifted to Africa and other parts of the southern Hemisphere. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than 213 countries and territories have reported nearly 17,000 laboratory confirmed deaths from the H1N1 influenza pandemic. It says most of these deaths have occurred in the northern Hemisphere.

But now the pandemic is more active in the southern Hemisphere and more deaths are likely to occur in that part of the world.

WHO Special Adviser on Pandemic Influenza, Keiji Fukuda, says the H1N1 virus is circulating most actively in parts of Southeast Asia, West Africa, and in the tropical zone of the Americas.

Fukuda says the World Health Organization is concerned about what will happen as the southern Hemisphere enters its winter season.

"Many of the countries in the southern Hemisphere are the countries who are least able to handle large outbreaks of disease and who have the least resources," noted Dr. Fukuda. "As you know, the reports of H1N1 in some parts of Africa, particularly West Africa have been relatively recent. We did not have reports of activity in Western Africa in 2009. They really were more reported in 2010"

Dr. Fukuda says a main focus of WHO activity is to get H1N1 vaccines shipped to countries in the southern Hemisphere.

He says 25 out of 95 poor countries in need of the vaccines have received them. He notes another concern is the weak monitoring ability in developing countries.

"I think it is clear that surveillance capacities still can be made much better," Dr. Fukuda added. "They can be improved in Africa, but also in a number of countries. So, this is one of our big aims that we hope to continue moving on over the next number of years to improve those basic capacities there."

The World Health Organization reports pandemic influenza activity remains variable in Sub-Saharan Africa. Data suggests the most active areas of transmission continue to be in West Africa and in limited areas of East Africa, particularly in Rwanda.

It says Ghana and Senegal have the largest number of reported cases of H1N1 In West Africa.

Fukuda says the world is far better prepared to tackle influenza pandemics now than in the past. He says important lessons have been learned from past outbreaks.

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