Flu would have bigger impact on Africa: WHO

The new H1N1 flu virus would have a bigger impact on Africa than it has had anywhere else should it break out on the world’s poorest continent, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

“If the epidemic hits Africa the impact may be more serious,” WHO Africa director Luis Gomes Sambo told reporters at a meeting of African ministers for health in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

“The surveillance systems are weaker and the resources that are required are just not sufficient, so we are now in the process of preparation.”

Reuters adds the ministers are to discuss possible response plans to any outbreak of H1N1 during the two-day health conference that began on Thursday at African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Worldwide, more than 2,000 people have been infected in 23 countries, and 44 people have died in Mexico and the United States.

No cases have been confirmed in Africa, but doctors are investigating five potential cases — one in Benin and four in the Seychelles, the WHO official said.

WHO has ordered 1,000 doses of Tamiflu, the only drug that has been shown to be effective against the strain, for every African country, Sambo said. Distribution is under way.

Sub-Saharan Africa is already grappling with epidemics such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. Sambo said poor health conditions on the continent could help H1N1 spread.

“If we have this new type of influenza, it may compromise the already poor health conditions of people in Africa,” said Sambo. “Particularly those that are most vulnerable, those with immune deficiencies from HIV or malnutrition.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said richer countries must donate money and drugs to poorer ones should H1N1 hit the developing world.