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UN Launches 'Call to Action' to Help Poor Countries Tackle Swine Flu

Major U.N. and international aid agencies are launching a Call to Action to help poor countries prepare for and protect people from the H1N1 swine flu. The agencies say the pandemic is likely to have a more severe impact on populations in countries, which have weak health systems.

The World Health Organization is warning countries to prepare for further spread of the H1N1 influenza pandemic in coming months.

However, aid agencies say it will be more difficult to fight the disease in poorer countries, which have weak health systems, poor health status and limited resources.

They say countries overburdened by diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria will have great difficulty dealing with the surge of pandemic flu cases.

World Health Organization spokesman, Paul Garwood, says this Call to Action aims to reduce the impact of H1N1 by offering a range of measures applicable to all countries.

"Many of the measures are just basic hygiene practices that we all should be taking to avoid coming into contact with the disease," he said. "But, we know that in countries in the developing world, and particularly in crisis-affected countries, affected by war, natural disasters, health systems are often very weak and they need extra support."

He said that includes emergency planning and preparing countries to deal with all kinds of crises.

In its latest update, WHO reports the number of laboratory confirmed cases of pandemic H1N1 in 177 countries is now more than 182,000, with nearly 1,800 deaths. The agency say Ghana, Zambia and Tuvalu are the latest countries to report newly confirmed cases of the disease.

WHO says around 20 African countries report nearly 1,500 cases of swine flu, with the vast majority in South Africa.

Garwood says, in countries where humanitarian crises have struck in the past, there are systems in place to respond to crises, such as a pandemic.

"We see in Zimbabwe, as a result of the cholera outbreak, the cholera command and control center was established, which eventually helped bring the cholera outbreak under control," he said. "Now, in Zimbabwe that same system is being used to respond to the H1N1 outbreaks, or cases that have been reported there."

The Call To Action document has been signed by WHO, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the U.N. Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance and the U.N. Children's Fund.

Red Cross Senior Officer for Public Health and Emergencies, Tammam Aloudat says, without the support of these and numerous other partner agencies, it will not be possible to tackle the pandemic. In addition, he says, it is critical to empower individuals and communities to protect themselves.

"This is a point that we in the Red Cross, we would like to emphasize many times," said Aloudat. "People have the power to protect themselves and to change the effect of the influenza on them and their families. And, that is what we are going for."

The aid agencies say several steps are key to reducing the impact of the pandemic. These include identifying populations at increased risk of disease and death, reducing death by treating acute respiratory illness and pneumonia, and reducing the spread of the disease by informing the public about simple protective measures.