March 19, 2010 / 4:43 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-Cuba gets H1N1 vaccines, Africa to follow -- WHO

* WHO confirms first shipment of 1.1 mln doses to Cuba

* Nigeria, Kenya and S. Africa among dozen to get doses

* Virus continues to spread in West Africa

* Experts to examine WHO handling of pandemic April 12-14

(Updates with Cuba delivery; edits)

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, March 19 (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday it had delivered the first doses of H1N1 vaccine to Cuba, and a dozen countries in Africa would receive millions of doses in coming weeks.

Cuba has reported 54 deaths from H1N1 flu, also known as swine flu, the greatest number in the Caribbean, according to the U.N. agency.

“Limited data suggests that pandemic influenza activity may be increasing across parts of Central America and the Caribbean,” the WHO said in its latest weekly update.

The H1N1 virus also continues to spread across much of West Africa, including in Ghana and Nigeria, although clinical data is limited, the WHO said.

Although the virus has turned out to be much milder than originally feared, the WHO says pregnant women and children remain at higher risk of serious complications and should be vaccinated.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, as well as Kenya and South Africa are among those slated to receive vaccine doses by May, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said.

“In the next weeks, 10-15 countries will receive vaccine. We are doing what we can to limit the effects of H1N1 on the African continent,” Hartl told a news briefing.

The pandemic sparked a race to develop vaccines by drug makers such as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) and Sanofi-Aventis (SASY.PA).

But many people in the developed world, where vaccines have been widely available since late last year, have not taken them as the flu strain has turned out to be relatively mild.

Some 1.1 million doses arrived in Cuba on Wednesday shipments to Honduras and El Salvador are en route, WHO spokeswoman Karen Mah said.

The shipment for Nigeria, expected to go soon, will contain about 2.8 million doses.

The WHO says the pandemic probably peaked in eastern and southern Africa around the end of last year.

The WHO has now delivered more than 4 million doses to 17 countries from stocks donated by industrialised countries and drug makers. In all, 95 countries that lack access to H1N1 vaccines have requested doses.

The WHO also said a committee of external experts would hold its first meeting in Geneva from April 12-14 to examine the WHO’s handling of the first flu pandemic in 40 years.

Worldwide, 16,813 people are confirmed as having died from H1N1, although the true toll is probably many times higher and will take at least a year after the pandemic ends to establish. (Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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