June 12, 2009

WHO tags Swine Flu world pandemic

By  Leke Adeseri and  Chioma Obinna, with agency reports
GENEVA—The World Health Organisation (WHO),  yesterday declared  Swine Flu the  pandemic of the 21st century, urging countries to shore up defences against the virus which is “not stoppable” but has proved mainly mild so far.

Fortunately, Swine Influenza A (H1N1) is yet to spread to Nigeria but the Federal Government had Wednesday announced the outbreak of what it described as ”African Swine Fever (ASF)” in certain parts of Delta State, dismissing insinuations that any case of swine fever had been recorded  in the country.

The Federal Ministry of Health which announced the outbreak of ASF contrary to media reports of the outbreak of the widely-reported Swine Flu in the country also explained that ASF affects only pigs and, it does not affect humans in anyway.

The ministry also pointed out that ASF is not related to the A(HINI) Influenza otherwise known as swine fever.

The UN agency raised its pandemic flu alert to phase 6 on a six-point scale, indicating the first influenza pandemic since 1968 is under way.

“This is a very important and challenging day for all of us. It is important because we will be raising our pandemic alert level to level 6,” WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, told newsmen on a teleconference.

“At this time, the global assessment is that we are seeing a moderate pandemic.”

Acting on the recommendation of flu experts, the WHO reiterated its advice to its 193 member countries not to close borders or impose travel restrictions to halt the movement of people, goods and services.

The move to phase 6 reflects the fact that the disease, widely known as swine flu, was spreading geographically, but does not indicate how virulent it is.

A unanimous experts’ decision was based on an overall assessment in the eight most heavily hit countries — Australia, Britain, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Spain and the U.S. — that the virus is spreading in a sustained way in communities, according to Chan.

“Collectively, looking at that, we are satisfied that this virus is spreading to a number of a countries and it is not stoppable,” she said.

“Moving to pandemic phase six level does not imply we will see an increase in the number of deaths or very severe cases.”

There have been 28,774 infections reported in 74 countries to date, including 144 deaths, according to WHO’s latest tally of laboratory-confirmed cases.

But the real number of people with the disease is likely to run into at least hundreds of thousands, as mild cases may not have been detected.