Preparing for Influenza A (H1N1) in Afghanistan

18 May 2009

Preparing for Influenza A (H1N1) in Afghanistan

18 May 2009 - Afghanistan has joined other countries worldwide to take precautions against Influenza A (H1N1).


So far no cases of the new influenza have been detected in Afghanistan, but in the meantime an emergency centre has been established, surveillance teams are monitoring any potential cases through a national laboratory, and the anti-viral medicine donated by WHO has arrived in the country,

With the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), the Ministry of Public Health has set up a command and control centre to answer calls from those concerned, to prepare information messages and to analyze data collected from across the country.

“This is the centre of information and operations linked to Influenza A (H1N1) preparedness and response,” said Dr Faizullah Kakar, Deputy Minister of Public Health.

The centre has three telephone hotlines (0798 660 829, 0798 665 085, 0798 684 404) staffed seven days a week, 24 hours a day by male and female doctors who can answer questions about the influenza.

Since the centre was opened at the end of April many calls have been received daily, with questions focussing on whether the disease has been found in Afghanistan, the readiness of the ministry to respond and what actions people should take.

“Surveillance is very vital at this stage. The ministry and WHO have now scaled up their surveillance activities all across Afghanistan. We can’t be complacent in Afghanistan as more and more countries are reporting cases. As of 17 May, 39 countries have officially reported 8,480 cases of Influenza A (H1N1) infection,” said WHO Representative in Afghanistan Peter Graaff.

At Kabul’s 15 public health hospitals and in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, surveillance teams from the ministry’s Disease Early Warning System have been looking for patients that may have Influenza A (H1N1).

One of 133 cases tested since the end of April was a patient at the Jamhuriat Hospital in Kabul. The patient was diagnosed with pneumonia but did not respond to the usual treatment for three days.

A WHO officer, who was called out to support the MOPH surveillance teams, collected a throat swab specimen and placed it in a special tube for processing at the Central Public Health Laboratory in strict adherence to WHO new guidance for surveillance of Influenza A (H1N1).

For all health workers, including the surveillance team members, staying safe is of absolute importance with all surveillance teams required to be in full protective clothing.

WHO has assisted the ministry in transport costs for distributing 500 kits of personal protective equipment last week to each of the 34 provinces for the surveillance teams.

The kits include masks, gloves, goggles, and gowns along with hand sanitizer.

To scale up the number of surveillance sites, the early warning surveillance teams are working together with the field surveillance teams of the Polio Eradication Programme to help in finding cases and collecting samples from all corners of Afghanistan.

Support from other health partners, including non government organizations which are operating health facilities in difficult parts of the country, will improve surveillance coverage to help detect the disease’s possible introduction in Afghanistan.

Early detection of Influenza A (H1N1) will help the ministry mitigate the impact of the disease.

Afghanistan has also received a donation from WHO of oseltamivir, the anti-viral treatment for the new influenza.

The 30,360 adult courses of Tamiflu, or more than 300,000 capsules, arrived in Kabul on 13 May.

They are part of the millions of adult courses of Tamiflu WHO has distributed to countries needing assistance to protect people against the disease.

The thousands of adult courses of Tamiflu are already at the ministry’s central warehouse and will be pre-positioned in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan.

Until now there has not been a single case of Influenza A (H1N1) detected in Afghanistan. According to WHO, the preparations against the new disease have been stronger than in any emergency situation the country has gone through in recent years.


Website: WHO Afghanistan