The Ministry of Health revealed during a media briefing that it has identified four quarantine districts in the country where confirmed cases of swine flu (A H1N1) would be confined.
This is in response to the outbreak of the swine flu epidemic, which has, to date, killed 44 people in Mexico where the outbreak was first noticed.
The ministry also said that it has established a team to identify the appropriate sites in the selected districts, identifying Gaborone’s Block 8 as a quarantine area.
Currently, Mexico has recorded 1,204 cases of swine flu up 90 from Wednesday. Twenty-seven other countries have reported over 660 cases.
The US, the second worst hit nation, has recorded 642 cases, and two people were reported dead from the flu.
The first American woman to die from the flu was a 39-year-old school teacher in Texas; a child also died from the flu in Texas while visiting relatives though the child originated from Mexico.
Canada is the third hit country recording 201 infections so far.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has so far recorded 18 cases, Spain 54, Germany 8, with China and a few others having recorded one (1) case each. Chile has 8 suspected cases.
Speaking at the press briefing, the Director of Public Health, Ms Sheenaz El Halabi, told the media that though there has been no confirmed case of the swine influenza in Botswana and Africa, the ministry has put in place necessary precautions to sensitize the public about the ‘flu and has also set up interventions to counteract the pandemic’.
She revealed that a Pandemic Influenza prepared simulation exercise had already been organized by the Ministry, in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at the Southern African Regional Office, adding that the exercise involved all the major stakeholders.
Halabi also asserted that a national multi-sectoral outbreak Preparedness and Response (PR) Task Force had been reactivated. “This team has further been subdivided into four technical working groups responsible for health education, advocacy and social mobilization, surveillance, investigation and management.”
She added that the groups will be responsible for isolation, quarantine, logistics and supply.
She also said that the task force has agreed on major intervention areas, which have been assigned to different working groups.
In addition, Halabi said that a screening checklist has been developed and distributed to the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport and mentioned that other plans are underway to avail the screening checklist to other ports of entry, including the border posts.
She said that the screening is a passive tool but clarified that by saying the fact that the ministry is using a passive tool rather than adopting an active tool of surveillance does not mean they are not vigilant about the pandemic.
“The screening involves checking whether the incoming individuals have come into contact with a confirmed case of the influenza or have been to any of the affected areas,” she said, asserting that once a confirmed case has been identified, one of the quarantine areas will be used to isolate the individual to prevent further spreading.
Halabi also revealed that there was currently no effective vaccine for the A (H1N1), adding that efforts are underway to develop the vaccine.
“Developing the vaccine would take 6 to 7 months,” she said, however, adding that a stock pile of treatment is available to treat the flu.
Subsequent to the emergency meeting of the Task Force on April 30, she said, a series of meetings were convened, the latest being on May 4.
Halabi said that the Integrated Disease Surveillance Response training is ongoing and the guidelines have been widely distributed.
The ministry is also keen on sensitizing all district councils as all the districts have been informed to strengthen their surveillance, preparedness and response activities. The districts have also been sensitized to reactivate their rapid response teams. Monitoring tools have been developed and sent to the districts.
Tuelo Mphele, a representative from the Department of Public Health and also a member of the task force, said that the ministry is using the same methods to educate the public on swine flu as they used for the Avian flu. She said that they are currently developing a leaflet to be distributed to educate the public on the influenza.
The ministry, however, was concerned that since winter is generally regarded as a flu season, this could cause panic and confusion and so urges the public not to confuse the common flu with swine flu.