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Many rural residents have limited health care

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, June 16, 2009) – The risk of the swine flu pandemic spreading in Papua New Guinea could be greater due to the very limited access to health care for the rural majority, Health and HIV/AIDS Minister Sasa Zibe said yesterday.

"Thus, PNG must take an imperative stand and focus its efforts on strengthening the swine influenza surveillance and vigorously implement public health measures to slow down virus spread in the community and limit transmission to vulnerable population when the country is confirmed as ‘affected’."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last Thursday declared swine flu a pandemic globally with an alert level reaching phase six.

Mr. Zibe said the majority of people around the world, who had contracted the new A(H1N1) influenza virus, had experienced mild symptoms and made a full and rapid recovery, often in the absence of any medical treatment.

The minister stressed that it was important that the people do not become complacent but continue to practice simple health and hygiene rules to minimise any possible spread of the virus.

"The Health Department is continuing its activities to ensure that PNG is prepared for the inevitable entry and spread of the virus.

"These activities include increasing stocks of the antiviral drug Tamiflu (60,000), antibiotics as well as personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves," Zibe added.

The minister stressed that a submission on the national response to swine flu would go before NEC accompanied by a request for K10 million [US$3.8 million] to the Government to ensure the level of mitigation is stepped up through the implementation of the national health response plan.

He stressed that all hospitals and health facilities must prepare for treating people who develop serious diseases and complications.

WHO head of delegation to PNG Dr Eigil Sorensen said yesterday: "It is no longer a matter of prevention for swine influenza in PNG but it is now our collective preparedness on how best we can effectively mitigate the spread of the virus here."

Meanwhile, the Pacific International Hospital (PIH) reported another three suspected swine flu cases over the weekend with their blood samples being sent to Melbourne, Australia, for laboratory tests.

PIH deputy chairman Dr Mathias Sapuri said yesterday: "This now brings to 10 the total number of suspected swine flu cases" mostly overseas travellers and Port Moresby residents, all reported at PIH.

PIH said that lab test results for its previously suspected cases had not yet been received from Brisbane.

The National could not obtain any further confirmation of suspected cases in other parts of the country yesterday.

Dr Sapuri said PIH was working in close consultation with WHO to have results sent back from Australia as soon as possible for those quarantined to be cleared or declared as swine flu positive and can be treated.

PIH also announced yesterday that it was providing free nasal swab tests and free distribution of the antiviral drug Tamiflu for patients showing flu-like symptoms.

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