Afghanistan declares H1N1 emergency, shuts schools

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan declared a health emergency on Monday to help the government prevent the rapid spread of H1N1 and ordered schools closed for three weeks as part of measures against the deadly virus.

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The government has also advised the public against gatherings such as weddings in enclosed areas, after Afghanistan had its first death attributed to the virus last week.

Nearly 350 positive cases of H1N1 have been detected among foreigners and Afghans and several hundred more people are suspected to be infected, a public health ministry spokesman said.

The positive cases, 271 reported among expatriates and the rest among Afghans, reflect a dramatic rise in infections registered in recent months, Farid Raaid told Reuters.

“We have declared a health emergency state on the basis of which all private (and) governmental educational institutions as well as kindergartens have been ordered to close for three weeks.”

Researches have shown that without applying preventative measures approximately 22 percent of the population will be infected by the disease, the public health ministry said in a statement.

One out of 80 cases of the influenza will die, it said.

“Therefore, if we assume population of Afghanistan between 25,000,000 to 30,000,000 a total 5.5-6.6 million population will be at risk of contracting ... and around 70,000 people will die of consequences of the disease,” it added.

An evaluation will be made after two weeks to determine whether to reopen schools, Raaid said.

The government has waged a massive public awareness campaign in the country, battered by decades of war and where illiteracy is high.

The U.N. World Health Organization has pledged to provide one million doses of vaccine to Afghans to tackle the disease, Raaid said.

Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Paul Tait and Jerry Norton