Africa Prepares to Face H1N1 Threat

As new cases of H1N1 influenza are reported across the globe, African leaders are reacting to the threat of a deadly pandemic in some of the world's poorest regions.

The African Union raised its alert level and called for a coordinated effort to fight the virus should it enter the continent. In an April 30 statement, the AU, headquartered in Addis Ababa, said it would urge African health ministers to address the issue during a conference slated for next week in the Ethiopian capital.

Earlier this week, in a precautionary action that was highly criticized by the United Nations and others, Egypt-which was hit by a spread of avian flu a few years ago-ordered the slaughtering of up to 400,000 pigs despite resistance from farmers within the country's Christian minority who raise them. The order will deprive many households of their main source of income.

No link has been established between the consumption of pork meat and the infection with H1N1.

Concerns over a looming influenza epidemic also reached southern Africa, where two suspected cases tested negative days after being reported in South Africa, the region's economic engine. The country's health minister, Barbara Hogan, sought to decrease public fear and confusion on national radio Thursday, saying that South Africa had enough medicine to face a potential outbreak and that the Southern African Development Community was accessing additional drug supplies for the entire region from the World Health Organization.

Hogan had just come back from a SADC meeting of health ministers in Maputo, which resulted in a joint statement discouraging travels to areas affected by H1N1.

Other African countries are already implementing their own preventive strategies. Medical teams are monitoring ports in Mozambique, Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal, Mauritania and other countries. South African and Moroccan ports were provided with fever detecting devices.

Other countries - Ghana and Gabon among them - banned the imports of pork meat.

Some of these reactions may in part be explained by a heightened sense of vulnerability among leaders in poverty-stricken and under-developed countries.

As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement Wednesday: "Poorer nations are especially vulnerable.They have been hit hard by other crises this year: food, energy, the global economy, climate change. We must ensure that they are not also hit disproportionately hard by a potential health crisis."

About the author

  • Tiziana Cauli

    Tiziana has contributed to Devex News since mid-2008, focusing mainly on Africa as well as the European donor landscape, especially those in Brussels, Rome and Barcelona. Tiziana has worked as a journalist for Reuters and the Associated Press in Johannesburg and at Reuters in Milan and Paris. She is fluent in Italian, English, French and Spanish.