Governments across the globe trumpet vigilance and preventative measures as the key to halting the spread of swine flu, as has been evident in Canada and Australia. But the Geneva-based International Red Cross (IFRC) fears African countries will be left out of the loop.
The IFRC says its emergency appeal for 3.3 million euros to fight influenza A (H1N1) in poorer countries went largely unheeded. Only 3.5 percent of the appeal, launched on April 30, has been covered. In other words, only 115,000 euros have been pooled so far.
“The media covered the swine flu so much, that we were expecting at least 30% or 40% response to our appeal,” said IFRC communications director Pierre Kremer in an interview with FRANCE 24. “A 3.5% response was simply inconceivable.”
"Most of the funds were aimed at helping national Red Cross organisations in developing countries,” says IFRC health specialist Jean-Luc Martinage. “France and the United States already have prevention plans in place, but sub-Saharan countries are going to need extra help,” he said, adding that the response had so far been “disappointing.”
According to the International Red Cross, world governments were called to fund a relatively low-cost training programme to prepare volunteers to detect the H1N1 flu, disseminate health messages and cope with a pandemic in developing countries.
Flu hits second African country
On Friday, Morocco confirmed its first case of the H1N1 flu virus in an 18-year-old woman who had returned from studying abroad. A first case of the flu on the African continent was reported on June 2.
"Results of (laboratory exams of a sample) have confirmed the existence of the A (H1N1) virus on the young woman, whose state of health is currently stable," Morocco's health ministry said.
Egypt, which is already battling a strain of bird flu, reported its 11th case of the flu on Thursday as authorities moved to extend a quarantine on a residence of the American University of Cairo after five students were reported with the illness.
In light of a possible outbreak of the disease in Africa, Red Cross staff believe donor countries should adopt a more global, less selfish approach. “Africa is not that far, planes from the continent are landing here everyday with passengers who could be carrying the virus,” says IFRC’s Martinage. “We will ultimately suffer the consequences [of an African outbreak], much like the AIDS epidemic,” he said.
Given its strong network of volunteers throughout the world, the Red Cross says it is well-placed to alert the authorities on a flu outbreak, because local statistics and sanitary surveillance bodies are unreliable.
In Mexico, the Red Cross is in charge of transporting patients and its first action was to make sure ambulance staff did not catch the flu and could carry on working.
A 'moderate' pandemic
WHO officials stressed that the designation of a "moderate" pandemic did not mean the number of deaths from the A(H1N1) influenza virus - currently at 144 worldwide - would spike, and did not recommend closing any borders.
But officials around the world called for caution, saying preventative measures are needed to halt the virus, which has already infected nearly 29,000 people in 74 countries.
Australia is the fifth-worst affected country in the world, after the United States, Mexico, Canada and Chile. The decision by the WHO to declare a pandemic came after officials determined the virus was spreading beyond the Americas.