Spread of swine flu threatens countries with inadequate health systems

    MISSISSAUGA, ON, April 29 /CNW/ - World Vision warned on Wednesday that
the spread of swine flu to developing countries without adequate means to
track the outbreak or to treat those infected could prove disastrous.
    As the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the pandemic alert to phase
four(1), World Vision's Emergency Health Director Dr. Mesfin Teklu said that a
lack of access to essential health care means communities in poor countries
are more likely than developed nations to suffer from such new viruses.
    "In the last six years, of the 257 recorded human deaths from bird flu,
none were in developed countries(2)," said Teklu. "It is communities in
countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar and Bangladesh where health systems and
structures are inadequate that people died from the disease."
    "Both avian flu and swine flu have highlighted a critical weakness in the
way the world addresses health threats. While we have effective mechanisms for
tracking the disease globally, led and coordinated by the WHO, countries'
ability to deal with a pandemic within their borders vary enormously, putting
many at risk," he said.
    Currently, confirmed and suspected outbreaks of swine flu are in
countries with relatively developed public health systems. World Vision is
concerned that the virus might spread to developing countries with weak
national health systems such as Guatemala and El Salvador.
    "In poorer countries where health system coverage is inadequate, such as
Honduras, Kenya and Cambodia, the ability of states to respond to the threat
is seriously compromised by their inability to effectively track the spread of
the disease, to tap into health care structures that are able to inform the
population of the risks and encourage behaviour change, or to distribute
essential medication to address the virus," Teklu said.
    Each year more than nine million children die of preventable causes, so
keeping children healthy should be a vital cornerstone of the development
agenda. Nevertheless many global donors have yet to deliver promised aid
funding for health. Also, many national governments are failing to prioritize
essential country-wide health provision and community-based health systems
strengthening, and to adequately educate communities about simple, effective
health interventions that could save many lives.
    Dr. Teklu added, "Swine flu has demonstrated that quality national
healthcare provision is actually a global issue and must be dealt with as
such. Alongside its response to the current crisis, the international
community must focus immediate attention on developing and strengthening
health systems that penetrate down to the community level. This will ensure
that when such health threats do emerge we are able to respond to them
effectively as a global community."
    Through established partnerships with the WHO and networks with other
agencies, World Vision is planning for the possibility of further global
spread. The agency is also educating its staff worldwide on precautions, using
comprehensive guidelines that World Vision developed in recent years for
international pandemic preparedness.

    Note to editors:

    -   (1) Human-to-human transmission and community-level outbreaks.

    -   (2)

    -   Mesfin Teklu Tessema, Emergency Health Specialist, Global Rapid
        Response Team, World Vision International. Based in Nairobi, Kenya.
        Mesfin Teklu, MD, MAHA, leads the coordination of health and
        nutrition programming into World Vision's Humanitarian Emergency
        Affairs and disaster response interventions.

    -   World Vision is a Christian relief, development and advocacy
        organization dedicated to working with children, families and
        communities to overcome poverty and injustice. World Vision serves
        all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender.

For further information:

For further information: To interview World Vision staff, please
contact: Yoko Kobayashi, (905) 565-6200 ext. 2151, (416) 671-0086 (cell),
yoko_kobayashi@WorldVision.ca; Alex Sancton, (905) 565-6200 ext. 3979, (416)
419-1321 (cell), alex_sancton@WorldVision.ca

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