Duque calls on agencies, LGUs to coordinate with DOH after WHO raised A/H1N1 alert level

June 12, 2009 12:06 pm 

MANILA, June 12 –- Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Friday called on relevant agencies and all local governments to closely monitor the situation and to coordinate very closely with the Department of Health (DOH) after the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the Influenza A/H1N1 level from 5 to 6.

Duque asked government agencies and LGUs to be vigilant about unusual and increasing cases of flu-like illnesses throughout the country and report such case immediately to the DOH.

Also, ensure the readiness of hospitals and health workers to manage the minority of cases which will experience complications and thus require hospitalization or higher level of care.

“As the Pandemic Alert Level has been raised to the highest alert level globally and as we foresee more cases to appear in the coming weeks, the DOH will soon be shifting toward a strategy of mitigation, particularly in localities where there are indications of community level transmission. To date, we stress that we still do not have community level transmission in the Philippines,” Duque declared.

He said with mitigation, the government will be recommending to localities and areas concerned to focus on taking care of the sick, providing guidance for people to protect themselves and their families, and monitoring the outbreak.

“I have already called for a Task Force Meeting which will be held tomorrow to ensure that there will be a smooth transition to this new policy,” Duque said.

The DOH is also heeding the general recommendations of the WHO with regard to the announcement of Pandemic Alert Level 6: 1) No border closure as it will not be possible to stop it at said points of entry; 2) No restriction of travel as people who are infected may not show symptoms so they cannot be identified from others who are not infected; 3) Greater emphasis on providing care with a decreased emphasis on stopping the spread of the virus.

Duque said as the WHO repeatedly emphasized, the goal in any pandemic is to save as many lives, reduce deaths and severe illness and minimize the impact of the pandemic on society.

“Although majority of cases due to A/H1N1 have so far been mild, this picture might change from country to country depending on so many factors that is not limited to the innate nature of the virus. Our ability to overcome the challenge posed by A/H1N1 or any pandemic threat will depend largely on the efficiency and effectiveness of our systems to respond,” he said.

“I emphasize early again to the public the appropriate health seeking behavior. For those with only mild symptoms, supportive care at home consisting of fluids, bed rest, vitamins and antipyretics should be enough for most cases. If you have progressive symptoms and preexisting conditions (i.e diabetes, asthma, COPD, heart disease, pregnant, immunocompromised, HIV, TB, malnutrition, extremes of age), then immediately seek medical care,” he added.

The DOH also said it will continue to closely monitor the situation and inform the media and the public of any development as they unfold.

“We are updating our strategies and continually improving our national pandemic preparedness and response plan on a weekly and sometimes, daily basis to adapt to changes in the local and global situation. We call on everyone’s sobriety, cooperation and understanding as together our nation faces this unique and extraordinary challenge,” Duque disclosed.

On June 11, 2009, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan declared that the “world is now at the start of the 2009 Influenza Pandemic” after raising the Pandemic Alert Level for the novel Influenza A virus from Level 5 to Level 6.

This means that the new A/H1N1 virus has now spread and caused sustained community level outbreaks in at least one or two countries in two WHO Regions. It has initially affected US and Mexico (North America) which are the epicenters of this pandemic and has shown a fast and steadily increasing number of cases particularly in the United Kingdom (Europe), Chile and Argentina (Latin America) as well as Australia, Japan and China (Western Pacific Region) which show that the virus is contagious and easily transmissible from person to person.

To date, there are nearly 30,000 confirmed cases of A /H1N1 from 74 countries and this is expected to increase further in the coming days and months.

Thus, WHO has already alerted all of its member states that further spread is inevitable and governments will do well by preparing their health systems to treat and manage an increasing number of patients.

The WHO said that “the overwhelming majority of patients experience mild symptoms and make a rapid and full recovery, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment.”

Duque said that is the same picture seen all of the nearly 100 cases documented in the Philippines, all of which were mild with some infections resolving even without antiviral treatment.

“The novel influenza A virus has caused 144 deaths out of the total reported 28,774 cases globally. This translates to a case fatality rate of 0.5%. In the country, it is fortunate that we have not had any deaths nor any severe manifestation of A/H1N1 though our cases are increasing because we expect this with aggressive surveillance, good reporting and intensive contact tracing,” said Duque.

“To put it in perspective, the number of deaths due to A /H1N1 is few compared with deaths from other diseases with pandemic potential such as SARS and avian flu which kill about half of their victims. In the country, more people die from dengue with a case fatality rate of anywhere between 1-2 %,” he added.

WHO has thus assessed the current pandemic as having “moderate severity” because 1) most patients recover and survive without hospitalization or medical care, 2) levels of severe illness from A (H1N1) appear similar to levels seen during local seasonal influenza periods, and 3) most countries’ health systems have been able to cope with the number of people seeking and requiring care.(PNA) /V3/FMB/

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