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By Scott Stearns
29 April 2009
West African countries responding to the threat of swine flu have reactivated early warning systems put in place following the outbreak of avian flu three years ago.
|Vendor Ousmane Cisse, center right, waits for customers in market on outskirts of Dakar, Senegal (2008 file photo)|
The region's major tourist destinations are most exposed to a potential outbreak of swine flu as visitors who contracted the disease in North America could carry the flu to Africa.
Morocco's Ministry of Health has reactivated procedures already in place against avian flu. The kingdom is closest to Spain, where the first European cases of swine flu were reported. Morocco is strengthening health checks at land, sea, and airports along with fever detecting cameras and tougher clinical and biological epidemiological surveillance.
Health authorities in Togo says they are increasing health checks at ports of entry. Nigeria is also focusing on early detection by coordinating surveillance at airports and seaports with the World Health Organization.
Senegal is returning to its avian flu early-warning system with health workers in all districts put on high alert to report suspicious cases. Doctors are making daily, instead of weekly, health reports of any cluster of patients with flu-like symptoms.
Senegalese officials say they are following the current U.N. recommendation against travel restrictions and are not stopping any direct flights from America.
Dakar's Ministry of Health says it has a stockpile of Tamiflu to treat any potential outbreak and wants people to be aware of the risks without creating hysteria.
Ghana has health workers at all points of entry looking for arriving passengers who may present symptoms of swine flu.
"What we are asking them to do is to intensify their surveillance to ensure that anybody who is coming into the country with signs and symptoms with respiratory tract infection they should take immediate history and refer such person or persons to the nearest health facility," explains Joseph Amankwa, Ghana's Director of Public Health.
Dr. Amankwa says Ghana has drugs on hand to treat anyone suspected of having swine flu and is reminding district health officials about those procedures. He says health service laboratories can detect and contain any flu outbreak, but may not be able to isolate the specific type of flu.
"The signs and symptoms is not a problem. Influenza-like illness they know how to detect that but our major problem is the laboratory facilities. Our labs are not in position to help us identify the cause or causes of influenza-like illnesses in terms of isolation and identification of the causative agent," he said.
The United Nations says funds are available to help African countries combat swine flu. The secretary general's office says Africa is particularly vulnerable following a series of health and nutrition crises.