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Swine Flu Still a Threat for West Africa


Possible outbreak of swine flu in West Africa is still a concern for the World Health Organization.

Though the threat of the H1N1 pandemic appears to be waning in the United States and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, the World Health Organization is still concerned about potential outbreaks of swine flu in West Africa.

This week, health officials in the West African country of Nigeria reported its first swine flu-related death and said the country has 11 confirmed cases of the virus. Last week, Mali's Health Ministry reported six confirmed H1N1 cases in Bamako, the country's capital.

Other West African nations, such as Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cape Verde and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have reported cases since the pandemic began in April 2009.

Speaking in Geneva this week, WHO director-general, Margaret Chan, said the global pandemic appears to be waning in parts of the Northern Hemisphere with good health surveillance systems but said the WHO remains vigilant.

"We cannot predict what will happen between now and later in the year when the Southern Hemisphere enters its influenza season and the virus becomes more transmissible," Chan said. "Data for most parts of Africa are sparse. We are concerned that some parts in the Western part of the continent remain susceptible to intense waves of transmission."

The WHO remains cautious over the spread of the H1N1 in the developing world, particularly in Africa, and Chan said they are keeping a "close watch."

So far, the impact in West Africa has been mild. According to the World Health Organization, only about two percent of the more than 16,000 reported swine flu cases on the continent have been in West Africa. The majority of the continent's cases have been concentrated in South Africa.

When swine flu hit in 2009, African nations activated their national emergency preparedness and contingency response plans. The threat of the disease has put additional strain on the already stretched health budgets of sub Saharan African countries facing devastating illnesses like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

Since the first case of swine flu was reported last April in Mexico, the disease has spread to more than 200 countries and claimed at least 13,500 lives worldwide.

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