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Monday, September 14, 2009

Measures to contain the spread of swine flu in Oman

Ravindra Nath
14 September 2009, MUSCAT

Private establishments in Oman have been urged to take all measures to contain the spread of swine flu as the count of affected people in the country crossed 1,400 and health authorities braced for a new wave of infection in the winter.

Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) Chairman Khalil bin Abdullah Al Khonji underlined that the private sector had a big part to play in nationwide efforts to curb the disease. He said companies must adopt all precautionary steps at their offices and labour camps in line with guidelines issued by the authorities.
Khonji also exhorted employees in the private sector to take advantage of the free diagnosis and treatment facilities offered by government hospitals and health complexes and centres. It was vital, he said, that labourers were made fully aware of the disease, how it could be avoided and the treatment procedures if they were infected.

The OCCI chief said the chamber was in the process of drawing up an ‘action plan’’ to promote awareness about H1N1 among private sector employers and employees. He added this would include a series of seminars and workshops at OCCI’s branches across
the country.

The Sultanate has recorded 1,455 cases of swine flu since its outbreak in the country at the end of July. Thirteen people have lost their lives, eight of them in the southern Dhofar governorate.

The Health Ministry is expecting an escalation in number of cases with the advent of the winter season which will coincide with the reopening of state-run schools throughout the country on September 26.

Schools were originally scheduled to resume after the summer vacation on July 29, but the government decided to postpone the date due to the outbreak of the disease. The Sultan Qaboos University, the country’s largest university, and all other higher education institutions in Oman have followed suit and will now recommence on
September 26.

The rapid spread of the virus prompted the government to set up a high-powered ‘Supreme Committee’ to oversee efforts to tackle the disease. The Health Ministry is hopeful that the newly-developed H1N1 vaccine, the first consignment of which is due here by the middle of next month, will help in its drive to check infection.

The Muscat Municipality, meanwhile, has issued a new regulation that makes it compulsory for workers at all barber shops and beauty salons to wear face masks and hand gloves. A spokesman said the move was “part of a preventive plan the municipality currently undertakes in conjunction with other bodies concerned to curb the spread of H1N1 and protect public health.”

He said a circular to this effect had been sent to 1,560 shops obliging all workers to use face masks and hand gloves when at work as well as hand disinfectants and equipment sanitisers. The spokesman added that teams would be sent to make sure that the regulation was adhered to and
book offenders.

In a related development, Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Saidi, Under-secretary for Health Affairs, attributed the high prevalence of H1N1 in Dhofar compared to the other regions of the country to the cool weather conditions there and large gatherings of people who arrived in the region to enjoy the Khareef season.

He was answering to questions from members of the Majlis Ash’shura after making a presentation in the house on the swine flu situation in the country. He said most people who died from the disease were suffering from chronic diseases, thus reducing their response to medicines.

Saidi said wearing masks was not effective for everyone, adding that it was considered useful mainly for medical personnel. He also said the virus was expected to continue spreading in the northern parts of the country during the winter as the cold weather helped in the spread of the disease.

“This is what happened in the Dhofar governorate. Moreover, chronic diseases make patients less immune to fighting the virus,” he said.

He added some two million doses of the H1N1 vaccine were expected to arrive in Oman by the end of the year or early 2010. A committee, Saidi said, had been formed to supervise distribution of the vaccine, adding that those working in health institutions, pregnant women, children and the elderly who were suffering from chronic diseases, would be given preference.

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