BY CATHERINE KARONG’O
The sheer mention of swine flu or what is now known as the H1N1 influenza virus is sending shivers down millions of spines. And when you see people wearing face masks, it looks even scarier.
Now, the fact that Kenya is not screening visitors from countries like the United States, Mexico and others that have reported cases of the H1N1 flu virus, is a tragedy.
The argument by the Ministry of Public Health that it is inconveniencing to visitors is just out of this world.
You cannot sit and expect that people will present themselves at the airport and say they have symptoms of the flu!
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also does not believe that screening at entry and exit points would work to reduce the spread of the virus.
The international health body says in its website that human rights should always be respected. I totally agree on the need to respect human rights.
But you see, screening does not in any way imply infringement on human rights.
We always go through all sorts of screening at the airport and other high profile places where you have to remove your belts, shoes, jacket etc, so what is inconveniencing about going through a simple screening process for the H1N1 flu?
I went through the process in Dubai over the weekend and it was the simplest procedure ever. I was on transit from New York, one of the states that have reported cases in the US.
It didn’t even take a single minute of my time. The screening process involved going through a detector. Some medical staff were strategically placed at the plane exit and the passengers would just pass one by one through a detector as medical personnel observed from a computer.
The good thing about it is that we were informed about the screening before landing, where we also filled some forms from the Public Health department indicating all the contact details. The forms also had the symptoms of the flu indicated and some in-flight information was also provided.
It was made clear that the screening process was not intended to quarantine anyone but to take immediate medical attention in case any person was found to be infected with the flu.
This to me is what I think we need. Our Public Health Ministry needs to borrow a leaf from that in Dubai. Where is Minister Beth Mugo? She has been a firm crusader of preventative medicine rather than curative. What happened?
We are talking about a virus that is spreading very fast.
As of May 18, 2009, WHO had reported about 8,829 confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu in 40 countries across the world.
The United States of America and Mexico have the highest number of cases at 4,714 and 3,103 respectively.
What more information do we need to take action?
( The writer is Health and Science reporter at Capital FM)