Armenian Government Downplays Swine Flu Outbreak

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The government played down on Tuesday the apparent spread of swine flu into Armenia, while urging the population to be more “careful and attentive.”

Health Minister Harutiun Kushkian also said the government has asked the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international agencies to bring forward the planned delivery of newly developed vaccines against the H1N1 virus.

“In accordance with the WHO timetable, we are due to start receiving vaccines in January because there were no [swine flu] cases registered in our country,” he said. “But we have now asked the WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the USAID and other international organizations, whose representatives I met today, to change their approach. Namely, to bring in the vaccine before the spread of the disease.”

Also, local drug-importing companies have pledged to supply the vaccines “within the shortest period of time,” said Kushkian. He made clear that medical authorities do not plan a mandatory vaccination of all Armenians and that the “preventive measure” will concern only high-risk groups of the population such as doctors, service workers and students.

In addition, continued Kushkian, the Armenian Ministry of Health has commissioned the purchase of 20,000 new doses of Tamiflu, the more conventional anti-flu medication. The ministry and Armenian hospitals have already stockpiled 7,500 Tamiflu doses, he said.

The minister spoke with journalists the day after the authorities reported the discovery of the first three suspected cases of swine flu in the country. Blood samples from two Armenian and one Iranian nationals were reportedly sent on Monday to an WHO laboratory in London for final confirmation.

Medical officials seemed confident on Tuesday that all three persons were indeed infected with H1N1 before arriving in Armenia last week. Ara Asoyan, Armenia’s chief epidemiologist, said the two Armenians are responding well to treatment and will likely be discharged from a Yerevan hospital “in two or three days’ time.” The other patient has already recovered from the disease and left Armenia, Asoyan told RFE/RL.

“I don’t think the situation in the country is serious,” Kushkian told a news conference. “We have simply registered [H1N1] cases and must be much more attentive at home, at work and in general.”

“There is no reason for alarm and fear. We just have to be careful and attentive,” he said.

There were no signs of swine flu panic in the streets of Yerevan on Tuesday, even though drug stores across the city reported growing sales of medical masks. “Masks sell very well,” one sales assistant told RFE/RL. “Their sales have gone up since yesterday. But the biggest demand is for Tamiflu.”

“People buy more drugs than usual but they are not panicky,” said another pharmacy worker.


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