Zimbabwe and Botswana have reported their first suspected cases of swine flu as the H1N1 virus began to establish a foothold in southern Africa.
Neighbouring South Africa has reported 54 laboratory confirmed cases of swine flu so far, 32 of which have been linked to a squash tournament at a university in Johannesburg. No deaths have been reported in the region as yet.
Dr Lucille Blumberg, head of epidemiology at South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases, told IRIN that most cases of the illness were "mild", and that it was too early to tell whether people living with HIV/AIDS would be affected to a greater degree by the flu.
Most of the world's people living with HIV/AIDS are in southern Africa, where most countries also have severely stretched health services. Blumberg said in other parts of the world swine flu had killed healthy people as well as those suffering from underlying illnesses.
Zimbabwe, which was unable to contain a recent cholera epidemic that killed more than 4,000 people and has a health system close to collapse, said it was prepared to combat swine flu.
One Zimbabwean competing in the Johannesburg squash tournament was confirmed as infected. Henry Madzorera, Zimbabwe's health minister, told IRIN: "At this stage, we don't know if he was infected in Zimbabwe or South Africa."
An Asian man was placed in quarantine after arriving in Zimbabwe from Britain, but has yet to display any symptoms. "The Asian man informed his doctor in Zimbabwe that friends he had stayed with in London had tested positive for the H1N1 virus. As a precautionary measure, he has been quarantined."
Madzorera said the World Health Organization had supplied antiviral drugs to Zimbabwe. "So far, I can say we are prepared to deal with swine influenza to some degree, as we have 21,400 courses of drugs to treat it."
The OCHA monthly humanitarian update for June warned that "Due to the country's vulnerability, hazards can easily translate into disasters if not well managed. Previously, the hazards have resulted in disasters that have caused severe destruction and human suffering, including loss of lives, as in the recent cholera epidemic."
|The Ministry of Health has been working on a prevention, control and mitigation strategy ever since reports of the outbreak were reported in other parts of the world|
In Botswana, Health Permanent Secretary Newman Kahiya said in a statement: "The public is hereby informed of the first confirmed case of Pandemic Influenza A(H1N1) 2009 in Gaborone [the capital], Botswana. Laboratory confirmation was received this morning (10th July 2009)." It is understood that the reported case is a male patient in the capital.
"The Ministry of Health has been working on a prevention, control and mitigation strategy ever since reports of the outbreak were reported in other parts of the world," Kahiya said. "Systems and structures are in place to monitor and address the situation. The public will be continuously updated as and when new developments unfold."
The government has established a toll-free number for reporting any suspected cases of swine flu.