Brazzaville, 30 April 2003 -- African countries have tightened their health surveillance systems with a view to ensuring prompt detection and prevention of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the flu-like disease which has infected more than 5,462 people and killed at least 353 others worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Ebrahim M. Samba said Wednesday in Brazzaville.
"We are working with Member States for the institution of precautionary measures to protect people in our Region where healthcare systems are weak, and several millions are infected with HIV" (the Human Immunodeficiency Virus), he said.
To date the only probable case of SARS in the Region was reported in South Africa in early April. However there is no local transmission of the disease.
In addition to strict surveillance, Dr Samba stated that WHO had urged Member States to ensure the availability of facilities at airports and other points of entry to identify and quarantine suspected SARS cases. A number of countries in the WHO African Region had already put in place adequate measures for prevention and control of the disease, he said.
All countries had also been appropriately advised on travel of citizens and residents to areas where SARS was currently raging, he added.
Globalization, the 21st century reality of people traveling across the globe within hours, is also a global opportunity for diseases like SARS to spread to additional areas, according to Dr Samba. He said that it was a credit to the international media to have promptly brought the attention of the international community to the disease.
SARS, an atypical pneumonia of unknown aetiology, is a new disease which has its origins in Guandong Province, China. The earliest known cases were identified in mid-November 2002. Since then, probable cases of SARS have been reported in 28 countries.
WHO is coordinating the international investigation on SARS with the assistance of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, and is working closely with health authorities in the affected countries to provide epidemiological, clinical and logistical support as required.
Meanwhile, WHO plans to hold an international scientific meeting in Geneva from 17 - 18 June to review the epidemiological, clinical management and laboratory findings on SARS, and to discuss global control strategies.
For detailed and the most current information on SARS, please visit http://www.who.int/csr/sars/en
The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) site maintained by the Department of Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Response (CSR) at the World Health Organization.
Contacts at the WHO Regional Office for Africa:
Dr Paul Lusamba-Dikassa
Regional Adviser for Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Response
( lusambap [at] whoafr.org )
Mr. Samuel T. Ajibola, Public Information and Communication Unit
ajibolas [at] afro.who.int
Tel: + 47 241 39378
Fax: + 47 241 39513