The sole benefit of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip has light-heartedly been said to be its containment of the H1N1 Swine Flu virus. Restrictions on movement in and out of this densely populated area as well as ever widening limitations on the import of much needed goods have meant that the virus has been kept at bay until now. Nevertheless, there has been growing fear that the emergence of just one case could trigger an epidemic when it inevitably finds its way in.The first outbreak of the virus was confirmed on Saturday and six individuals were diagnosed. By Sunday, the first fatality was announced. According to various reports, two more deaths were announced on Monday and another yesterday morning, including a baby and two women. This brings the total to four deaths in four days. Although the virus causes only moderate symptoms in most patients, those who have died all fall into the ‘high risk’ category; pregnant women, young people and those with underlying health problems. All those diagnosed are thought to have underlying health problems. The remaining patients have been evacuated to Israel for treatment.
Apprehension surrounded the return of 4,000 Hajj pilgrims from Saudi Arabia. It was hoped that they could have been vaccinated before leaving however, this was not possible and they have had to be monitored since they began returning on Friday. A delay in the receipt of a consignment of flu vaccines along with severe shortages has lead to increasing concern. Currently there are only 1,000 doses available for Gaza’s 8,000 health care workers. Reports suggest the imminent transfer of 10,000 vaccines from Israel’s Co-ordination and Liaison Administration. It is hoped that a further 1 million doses will arrive between mid-December and late January to be distributed between Gaza and the West bank.
A spokesman for the Health Ministry in Gaza, Mr. Khalaf, said that four new cases of swine flu had been diagnosed on Monday; however, he also assured the pubic that a national strategy to deal with the crisis had been finalised.
Since its emergence in April, Swine Flu has hit 207 countries worldwide and lead to al least 8,770 deaths. In the West Bank there have been approximately 1,250 reported cases and 9 deaths while Israel has had approximately 8,540 reported cases and 67 deaths.