No calls for Sri Lanka travel ban despite “Influenza Pandemic” caution, says CCHDC

The Maldives Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) has said it is not advising people against travelling to Sri Lanka amidst concerns about a recent rise in cases of the H1N1 influenza virus in the country, adding that no cases of the disease have been confirmed in the Maldives of late.

According to the CCHDC, data from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition’s Epidemiology Unit has recorded 342 cases of the disease, which in turn has been linked to 22 deaths in the country. Sri Lankan authorities have said that the country, particularly around the city of Colombo, is undergoing an “epidemic of Pandemic Influenza”, with 65 cases of H1N1 occurring just last week – between December 13 to December 19 – resulting in nine deaths across the country.

An official from the CCHDC told Minivan News that it was not calling for any travel restrictions as a result of the influenza report, but added that the centre did urge any travellers to be cautious when visiting the country.

In terms of caution, the centre urges travellers to maintain basic hygiene measures like washing hands, particularly among those most susceptible to the disease such as pregnant women, children and the elderly.

“The disease is spread by the respiratory routes, so we recommend avoiding crowded areas as much as possible, particularly as measures like wearing masks will not really help,” said a spokesperson for the centre.

Regular washing of the hands with soap was strongly recommended by the CCHCD, which said it had not had any confirmed cases of the virus recently in the Maldives, thought the centre claimed it would continue to keep the public informed.

However, beyond precautionary measures, the CCHCD has said that anyone developing a fever, a cold or a cough upon returning from Sri Lanka or being in contact with other travellers should try and obtain medical advice as soon as possible.

More information for those concerned about the virus is available by calling 3315334.


Swine flu threat decreases as alert level rises to six

The ministry of health has announced it has raised the H1N1 swine flu alert level from four to six.

Despite the counterintuitive increase, alert level six is when the danger of the disease goes down and the risk of it spreading also decreases.

Dr Ibrahim Yasir, director general of health services, said “The disease has not spread in the way we predicted it might. We expected the disease to spread [more] with the start of the academic year and people returning from abroad.”

He said the spread of the disease had been controlled by the hard work of people in the health sector, “the priority given to the pandemic by the government and the awareness of the public.

“Since we didn’t see an increase in the spread of the disease we decided it didn’t warrant a level five alert status,” he said.

The ministry announced that with the level six status many, of the H1N1 precautions would be lifted.

Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed from the Centre of Disease Control said “Our warnings about not to gather in public places have been lifted, and places like KudaKudhinge Bageecha (children’s park) can now be opened.

“Our swine flu clinic is closing as hardly anyone who goes there any more, and the 24-hour hotline is also being closed.”

Jamsheed said lifting the precautions “does not mean we have to stop being vigilant. There is still a possibility that the disease could spread.”

Next step

The ministry announced that it would now divert its resources towards preparing for the next outbreak.

“We have 120,000 people who have been classified as a prioirty group to receive swine flu vaccines,” Dr Yasir said.

According to the ministry, vaccine doses promised to the Maldives so far include 20,000 from Saudi Arabia, 30,000 from the World Health Organisation (WHO), 15,000 from China, 1500 from Singapore and 50,000 from the government’s own budget.

“The Chinese doses have not been approved by the WHO yet so we are keeping that on hold for the moment,” Jamsheed noted.


Don’t let your guard down against the flu

The health ministry has called on people to be vigilant about swine flu.

Since July, 32 cases have been reported in the Maldives and one death. According to Miadhu, the ministry has said that even though the spread of the disease has slowed, people should still be cautious.

The ministry again emphasised the importance of controlling the spread once schools had opened, urging parents to keep children at home until fully recovered.


Maldives struggles to obtain swine flu vaccine

The Maldives may have difficulty acquiring a vaccine believed to be effective against the H1N1 virus, despite it being produced nearby.

“There are a limited number of companies producing the vaccine, and global vaccine production is pretty low. There’s not enough to meet demand,” said Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed from the Centre for Community Health and Disease (CCHD).

“Neighbouring countries are producing the vaccine, but it is going to the West,” he claimed. “That’s part of a global issue that existed before swine flu, but it means there a difference between who needs and who gets the vaccine.”

The Maldives has developed a vaccine deployment plan, prioritising healthcare staff, however, nobody has yet been immunised.

There is no indication that wearing a surgical mask, now a common sight around the capital Male’, could protect people from flu infections, he said.

“If worn properly the masks can prevent transmission by people who are symptomatic because it eliminates the droplets,” he said.

“But when you walk around Male’ you see people wearing them like fashion statements, on their chin or forehead – this has no effect at all and probably adds to the problem.”

Temporary flu clinic opens

In response to a rising number of flu patients at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), the government has established a temporary hospital in Nasandhura Palace Hotel.

Jamsheed said the clinic was intended to relieve the pressure on IGMH staff with the onset of the flu season.

The clinic will provide anti-viral drug Tamiflu to patients who test positive to Influenza A, he said. Tamiflu is used to treat the virus but the drug is not an effective preventative.

“If we are suspicious that it could be the H1N1 (swine flu) virus we will start the patient on Tamiflu without delay,” Jamsheed said, adding that the country’s current stockpile of 2,500 adult doses “is sufficient”.

Thirty-four patients have tested positive for Influenza A so far, according to the ministry of health and family.

Of those patients 12 tested positive for the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ virus. One of them, a 65 year-old man from Raa Atoll, became the first Maldivian to die from the disease on 19 November.

The remaining 11 were treated and have since been released, Jamsheed said.

The World Health Organisation reports that over 1,000 people are now dying a week from the virus.

However Jamsheed noted that “the mortality rate of swine flu and seasonal flu is pretty much the same, although it depends on the country and things like socioeconomic factors.”