x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ministers say swine flu is under control

Officials appear on television to say the H1N1 virus is under control and there is no need to panic.

Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami, left, Dr Hanif Hassan, centre, and Dr Mahmoud Fikri were among the panelists participating in an Al Emarat TV station swine flu discussion yesterday.
Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami, left, Dr Hanif Hassan, centre, and Dr Mahmoud Fikri were among the panelists participating in an Al Emarat TV station swine flu discussion yesterday.

ABU DHABI // Swine flu is under control and there is no need to panic, ministers said yesterday when they took the unusual step of appearing in a live television broadcast to ease public anxiety. "I would like to send a message of reassurance that the situation in the UAE is very stable," said Dr Hanif Hassan, the Minister of Health.

Dr Hassan and Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami, the Minister of Education, were members of a panel organised by the National Media Council and the Higher Supervisory Committee for Combating H1N1. The panel said some people exaggerated the danger of the virus, causing panic and discouraging many from going about their daily lives, while others were helping the virus spread by ignoring the advice of health authorities.

Swine flu has claimed six lives in the UAE, including two women who were in the late stages of pregnancy, according to the latest known figures. Many worried parents kept their children at home when the new school year started last week, leaving teachers addressing almost empty classrooms. Dr Hassan attributed the stability of the situation in the UAE to early preventative measures. But he said attempts to prevent the arrival of the virus in the country, including the monitoring of airports, had failed. "In the past, the focus was on trying to prevent the arrival of the virus into the country," he said.

"We know the UAE is a country that is open to the world, there is a free market, huge interaction with the world. "The virus moving from one country to another was impossible to halt." He said the UAE was one of the first countries to order sufficient amounts of vaccine to fight the virus. "We should not undermine the issue because it is spread all over the world and we cannot get rid of it overnight," he said, but adding that it "is easy to deal with if discovered early".

The Health Ministry was focusing on raising awareness of the disease, and helping vulnerable groups, said Dr Hassan. "The virus is weak but its danger lies in the fact it spreads fast," he said. "We stress cleaning, sanitising, avoiding crowded areas, but life should continue. Everything we do is backed by the [World Health Organisation]. He said the vaccine that the UAE was due to receive this month had been approved internationally and its risks were similar to other medicines.

"These international organisations do experiments with a large number of samples before issuing approval. Their criteria are very tough," he said. "The UAE would never import the vaccine or start using it until ensuring 100 per cent it was approved by these organisations. "There is a risk that does not exceed one per cent, but that is the case with every other medicine or vaccine." Mr al Qattami said the decision to begin the new school year had been taken after ensuring that classrooms were safe.

He said joint committees were formed with the Ministry of Health to help schools prevent the spread of the virus. However, he added that the authorities could not make sure that every school complied with the standards. "The number of schools is huge, there are private and public schools, schools for communities, inside cities and in rural areas. It is natural that some of the schools have stronger measures than others," he said.

In July, the Ministry of Health said more than 600,000 children would be immunised against swine flu once a vaccine was ready. UAE-based Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries, based in Ras al Khaimah, has said it has struck an exclusive deal with a Chinese company to provide the Middle East and North Africa with a swine flu vaccine. Dr Mahmoud Fikri, executive officer of health policy affairs at the Health Ministry, said it was important to deal with the disease carefully.

"The virus is closely followed up and by very renowned international organisations," said Dr Fikri. "If proper medical and scientific measures are followed, there is no need to be scared of the disease. The virus is under control." Hamdan bin Salem al Mazroui, the head of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, said the misconceptions about the virus were based on wrong understanding of certain Islamic teachings.

He noted that there was a hadith about "avoiding people with a disease", but that was wrongly understood and some people who tended to stay at home and prevent their children from going out. hhassan@thenational.ae