13 August 2009
South Africa is to launch major awareness campaigns and open a public hotline as the county steps up its response to the swine flu pandemic.
Speaking to journalists following a Cabinet meeting in Pretoria this week, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the “enhanced national response” would build on measures already in place to deal with the H1N1 influenza pandemic, commonly known as swine flu.
Motsoaledi said international experience had shown that closure of schools and other public places such as shopping malls was not effective in stemming the spread of the disease, merely causing social disruption instead.
Motsoaledi said he would be recording advertorials to be flighted on national television, radio and radio and community radio stations.
“Pamphlets and posters will be distributed in local communities in their local languages, at taxi ranks, shopping malls and other public places to further spread information on the virus, the symptoms, and what we need to do to ensure mitigation of its impact,” Motsoaledi said.
He said the country currently had a functional hotline, operated by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, for health workers with queries.
In addition, the Department of Health would have a share-call number operational by Wednesday next week for public queries or concerns.
Working with social partners
Motsoaledi said letters co-signed by the ministers of health, basic education and higher education would be sent to the heads of all school and universities outlining the challenge and the steps they needed to take.
Letters will also be sent to religious leaders urging them to share information on the virus with their congregations. Similar letters will be sent to organised labour and business, traditional leaders, community development workers and social workers.
What is swine flu?
According to the Department of Health, swine flu is an airborne disease that spreads in the same way as seasonal flu, through coughing and sneezing. It cannot be caught by eating pork.
Transmission can be avoided by coughing or sneezing into a tissue or hanky; by washing one’s hands regularly; and by avoiding crowded areas, especially if people have symptoms of the flu.
It is treatable with antiviral medication, which is available in South Africa but may only be used under a medical doctor’s direction.
Symptoms can be divided into “mild”, “moderate” and “severe”. Mild symptoms include a runny or blocked nose, fever, muscular aches and pains, a general feeling of unwellness and coughing.
Moderate symptoms include mild symptoms as well as shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent vomiting and diarrhoea and signs of dehydration.
Severe symptoms include mild and moderate symptoms as well as signs of respiratory distress, blue lips and other parts of the body, and severe drowsiness and loss of consciousness.
People who are suffering from the symptoms should see their doctor.
“The overwhelming majority of people have mild symptoms and will not need any specialised medical care, and we believe nothing should happen to them,” the minister said. “Such symptoms should be treated as with other influenza-like symptoms.”
However, people with chronic heart or lung disease, pregnant women, or people living with HIV/Aids, should seek medical care immediately if they develop even mild symptoms.
Anyone with moderate or severe symptoms should also seek medical attention immediately.