Ethiopia: Swine flu/A-H1N1 testing in Kenya questioned

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Ethiopia has not been spared by the rise of swine flu or A/H1N1 pandemic that has caused several deaths in every region of the earth. To help identify potential trouble spots and combat the A/H1N1 influenza virus with the needed speed, the Ethiopian ministry of health has set up a swine flu detection laboratory. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has however declared the centre as substandard and ordered Ethiopia to send suspected swine flu cases to Kenya for confirmation.

According Dr. Worknesh Ayele, head of the new laboratory established by the Ethiopian health and nutrition research institute under the auspices of the Ministry of health, although the centre is equipped with all the necessary facilities to enable it undertake up-to-date analysis, the World Health Organisation has insisted that the Ethiopian laboratory is not in conformity with required international standards to validate swine flu tests.

Last month, three cases of suspected swine flu infections had tested positive at the Ethiopian laboratory. The results were confirmed a second time by the WHO authorised laboratory in Kenya after verification tests were made. “At the moment, we are forced to send sample H1N1 flu viruses to neighbouring Kenya, owing to WHO’s denial” to validate the standard “of our laboratory,” Worknesh Ayele said.

“Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that Ethiopia’s laboratory is not functional… (so far) we have sent five samples of the virus to our Kenyan counterparts and their results fully coincide with ours. This means that Ethiopia’s laboratory is up to standard”, she said. According to health officials, the need for a local laboratory to undertake swift analysis is fundamental to check the spread of the virus as early detection could help identify trouble spots.

Meanwhile, the WHO-AFRO (Africa regional office) in close collaboration with a U.S. government initiative, PEPFAR, on July 27 launched the first ever medical laboratory accreditation scheme to help improve laboratories across the continent. The 13 countries involved in the scheme include; Ethiopia, Botswana, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. At least 30 laboratories will be accredited in the first phase.

The move should help Africa strengthen and enhance its health systems and healthcare management to help improve diagnosis and monitoring of emerging diseases, a deficiency that has been highlighted by the swine flu – influenza A (H1N1) – pandemic.

Health file  The lack of education and political will, poverty, out-moded traditional beliefs, to mention but a few, have been widely blamed for causing severe and sometimes unwarranted health catastrophies of genocidal proportions on the African continent. Child killer diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, water borne diseases, HIV/AIDS, among other preventable ailments have killed millions in their wake. As rightly said by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on May 13, 2000 "More people (...) died of Aids in the past year (1999-2000, ndlr) in Africa than in all the wars on the continent".
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