Burma should turn to neighbours in the event of swine flu

Apr 28, 2009 (DVB), Burma would be better positioned to manage swine flu in the event of an outbreak were it to turn to neighbouring countries for assistance, said a Thailand-based Burmese doctor.

Cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Mexico, the United States, and Britain, amongst other countries. 152 people are thought to have died from it already, although no deaths have been reported outside Mexico.

No trace of the disease, which international health authorities now acknowledge can pass from human to human, has so far been found in Southeast Asia.

Yet were it to hit Burma, health authorities there may not be able to cope alone, said the director of exiled National Health and Education Committee.

"It is rather difficult to handle and control effectively, because even in the more advanced countries like Mexico they are still trying to find out the real nature of swine flu," said Dr Thiha Maung.

"I think they [Burmese government] don't have adequate drug stocks and laboratories or any investigative materials.

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

Similarly, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation's Representative in Burma admitted the situation could be hard for authorities to handle.

"The swine influenza is already a human-to-human disease," said Shin Imai. "This is a very worrying point and if it happens here Burma will be very vulnerable."

He added however that the government had put out a public notification on swine flu, and issued instructions on mitigating the risks of contraction.

"We can distribute Tamiflu medicine, which is the most effective treatment, so for the time being it can help containment if something happens," he said.

Today the World Health Organisation said the disease could no longer be contained and countries should focus on mitigating its effects.

The organization also raised its alert level to four, two steps short of a full pandemic.

Reporting by Rosalie Smith and Francis Wade

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