Friday, 1 May 2009 2:15 PM

WHO/SPC Response to Swine Flu Threat in Pacific Islands Region

The human swine influenza A (H1N1) outbreak is evolving rapidly. As of 29 April 2009, nine countries have officially reported cases of the infection.

New Zealand confirmed thirteen cases today (on Thursday 30 April), increasing the likelihood that the infection could spread to Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs).

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) are working to support PICTs in responding quickly and efficiently to this public health threat. The priority is to ensure that countries' surveillance systems are working, as well as their laboratory testing procedures to detect any suspected cases.

"We have asked all PICTs to immediately notify WHO if they identify any suspected cases of the swine flu as requested by the International Health Regulations,'' says Dr Jacob Kool, Communicable Disease Surveillance and Response, World Health Organization Office for the South Pacific. "They are also asked to report to us twice a week on the total number of influenza cases."

Health authorities in all PICTs were initially alerted about the situation last Saturday (25 April).
Updates on how it is evolving and technical advice on public health measures and precautions that need to be implemented urgently are now being provided regularly.

"We started working intensively with PICTs on pandemic preparedness four years ago when we designed the Pacific Regional Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Project (PRIPPP) in collaboration with WHO, the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)," says Dr Tom Kiedrzynski, Epidemiologist at SPC.

PICTs are encouraged to activate their pandemic preparedness plans according to the WHO Influenza Pandemic Phases. The preparedness strategies developed and tested in recent years under PRIPPP will assist countries in dealing with this potentially alarming situation.

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