Two new H1N1 cases in Burma

July 17, 2009 (DVB), The Burmese government has said it is equipped to deal with an outbreak of the A/H1N1 swine flu virus, with reports released today saying that two new cases have been confirmed in the country.

Burma remains comparatively unaffected by the disease, with only four cases so far confirmed, and no deaths yet reported. In contrast, neighbouring Thailand has reported over 3,500 cases, and 18 deaths.

The four victims in Burma each developed symptoms after returning from overseas trips, largely in neighbouring Asian countries.

"At this moment, the virus is not spreading fast compared to other countries and also there is no internal spread of the flu [in Burma]," said Dr Saw Lwin, deputy director of Infectious Disease Control Department in the capital, Naypyidaw.

Each of the patients was quarantined for 10 days. The first two to contract it have been released from hospital, while the other two remain under close surveillance.

Concerns have arisen among medical experts as to whether Burma's healthcare system, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2000 ranked as the second worst in the world, could handle an outbreak of the disease.

In April, shortly after the first confirmed cases of H1N1 in Mexico, the director of the exiled Burmese National Health and Education Committee, Dr Thiha Maung, said that health authorities in Burma may not be able to cope alone.

"I think they don't have adequate drug stocks and laboratories or any investigative materials," she said.

"I think they would need help from neighboring countries like Thailand."

The Burmese government has, however, expressed confidence in its ability to cope with the virus, which the WHO in June declared a global pandemic.

"So far, we can tell we have enough medication [for the disease] by comparing the spread rate with other countries," said Dr Saw Lwin.

"We are educating people on how to prevent catching the virus; we tell them to wash their hands often, to cover their mouths and noses when they sneeze or cough and to dispose of [masks and handkerchiefs] properly after being used."

Five people in total are currently under surveillance, both at hospitals in Rangoon and in rural areas, Saw Lin said.

Burmese observers remain skeptical however that the government is not revealing the full extent of the situation inside Burma.

Saw Lin said however that health officials are "working at our best and being as transparent as we can", adding that "there are still a lot of countries that haven't had the disease yet".

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

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