WHO confirms first cases of H1N1

The first cases of pandemic influenza H1N1 2009 have been confirmed in Somalia, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO).



"Two out of 10 samples tested positive for novel H1N1 [pandemic strain] on 3 November 2009 in KEMRI [Kenya Medical Research Institute] referral laboratory in Nairobi," Mohamed Mahamud Fuje, WHO's H1N1 focal point for Somalia, told IRIN.



On 9 November, WHO issued a statement saying Somalia was the last country in the Eastern Mediterranean region to report confirmed cases of H1N1.



2009 H1N1 (also known as “swine flu”) was first detected among human beings in Mexico, spreading worldwide in much the same way as regular seasonal influenza.



On 11 June 2009, WHO signalled that a pandemic of 2009 H1N1 flu was under way.



Awareness building



WHO said it had conducted training for 70 health workers from the self-declared republic of Somaliland and the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland "on case management, surveillance, outbreak communication and social mobilization, infection control, and vaccination".



Fuje added that this would be extended to south-central Somalia very soon to strengthen WHO’s surveillance. He said the aim was to train enough people and "if we do that I am confident we would be able to deal with any outbreak".



Bahsir Ali Bihi, the Puntland Minister of Health, told IRIN on 16 November that the region had started vaccinating people going to the Haj against H1N1.



"We have started with the pilgrims and we are also conducting prevention campaigns," Bihi said. "We are gearing up for a major campaign to sensitize people to the danger and how to prevent it."



Messages will be disseminated to the population by radio, pamphlets and billboards, he said.



WHO said personal protection equipment and laboratory diagnostic kits had been pre-positioned in Somalia for infection control and rapid diagnosis.



The biggest constraints are the lack of an effective and sensitive disease surveillance system which would enable early detection of cases of influenza-like illnesses, WHO noted.



The absence of appropriate laboratory facilities in Somalia had led to delays in the identification and confirmation of the H1N1 virus and further delays in response, WHO said. The agency recommends a national influenza centre be established.



Fuje said lack of sufficient funds was "severely hampering efforts to increase social mobilization and community awareness on prevention and case management".



ah/mw