Region records 400,000 flu victims, 19 swine flu deaths
Approximately 400,000 cases of influenza type illnesses were reported as at the end of last year within the Caribbean Region, particularly among CAREC member states. This development, Health Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, said, is an indication that Acute Respiratory Infections have been a major problem in the Caribbean.
He revealed that about 50,000 of the 400,000 odd cases had emanated from Guyana in wake of the threat of the HINI virus commonly referred to as the Swine Flu which was first discovered last year in Mexico.
Just a few days ago it was reported that confirmed deaths resulting from the HINI virus globally had mounted to about 13,000. And according to Minister Ramsammy, the Region of the Americas probably has accounted for the most deaths when compared to the other regions of the world.
“There are approximately 7,000 of the number of cases that have been confirmed in the Americas. This is not a trivial public health event we have. So we should be cautious in the sense that in addition to those confirmed deaths many other deaths are suspected HINI deaths.”
The Minister acknowledged yesterday that there has been a level of under-reporting of the virus, a fact that most countries in the Americas have conceded to. He attributed this state of affairs to the realisation that health officials have not been seeking laboratory confirmation for all suspected HINI cases.
“This is true throughout the world and in some cases countries have even stopped checking unless there are very severe cases. But not all cases are tested to enable laboratory confirmation for various reasons,” Dr Ramsammy speculated.
He said that among the 21 CAREC member states, as at last Friday, 1,435 confirmed cases were reported. Of this amount, he said, 29 emanated from Guyana. However, he noted that the number of specimens tested has far exceeded that number. It has been deduced further that 19 deaths had occurred in six of these countries namely: Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Suriname, St Kitts and St Lucia. Guyana, according to the Minister, has not yet reported any HINI deaths.
The Minister’s disclosures came yesterday during a press conference, which was held ahead of the commencement of a HINI training workshop at the National Public Health Reference Laboratory.
The week-long activity will be facilitated by representatives from the United States Centres for Disease Control (CDC).
Dr Ramsammy divulged that one of the reasons that all suspected cases were not tested was because of limited capacity. He admitted that currently there is a weak capacity in the region of the Americas, particularly among CAREC member states.
“When we started out after the first report out of Mexico we were all dependent on the US CDC for testing. Then that capacity grew so that CAREC developed the capacity for testing but to this day CAREC with the responsibility for testing for 21 member states has limited capacity.”
Minister Ramsammy disclosed that the number of specimens a single member state can submit at any one time is restricted to a mere six. Many countries have been confronted with this challenge, the Minister said, even as he noted that Belize has recently approached Guyana for help in this regard.
And help may very well be available sooner than later since in addition to having a Real time Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction equipped laboratory and the commencement of HINI training for staffers within the Reference Centre, the Georgetown Public Hospital and other public health facilities, measures are being put in place for local testing.
And this development in the health sector, the Minister said is now becoming a reality because of the assistance of two of the most important public health technical agencies in the Region, PAHO and CDC. Support from PEPFAR he said has also been instrumental.
In anticipation of the improved HINI testing capacity, clinicians, according to Dr Ramsammy, have surveillance in place targeting influenza like illnesses across the country which will be reported to the health ministry on a daily basis.
“We are improving our algorithm for testing and so now we will have our results in time. That has been one problem we faced…sending out specimens for testing but not in real time. We got results after the fact. We hope that now that we will be able to get results in real time.”
For the moment all tests will be undertaken free of charge, a practice the Minister is hopeful will be sustained once the system is not overwhelmed with too many influenza type illnesses.
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