Health authorities confirmed that this week Argentina will be declaring a “sanitary emergency” in the whole country given the advance of the A/H1N1 virus influenza that so far has killed 27 people and infected at least 1.800. Another victim of the pandemic is forecasted to be Public Health minister Graciela Ocaña.
“The emergency does not mean we are going to close down everything, the emergency is a framework reference to allow the purchase of medicines directly or mobilize personnel” said Claudio Zin, Health Minister from the province of Buenos Aires where most A/H1N1 influenza cases (and deaths) have been reported.
Zin added that the measure which has been long requested by doctors and medical organizations “is a reference for quick decisions” to help combat the spreading disease.
“This does not mean that we must close schools, shopping malls o suspend underground travelling”, pointed out Zin. He confirmed the “Crisis committee” has recommended declaring the “sanitary emergency” but once the mid term elections are behind.
Private health organizations have said that the number of people infected with the virus is “substantially higher” than official numbers and pointed out that “hospitals are on the verge of collapse”.
According to a report from Argentina’s Health Federal Council which brings together members form the capital Buenos Aires and provinces, a million people had seasonal flu in 2007. Of these 100.000 were hospitalized and the total death toll was 18.500.
The number was never made official because 2007 was an electoral year, but the new flu strain A/H1N1 demands three times as many hospitalizations. So according to the medical report the question is: does Argentina have the sufficient hospitals and beds to accommodate such a tide of cases?, “the answer is No”.
Another victim of the A/H1N1 flu is Minister Ocaña, who was forced to roll back a national emergency when dengue seemed out of control a couple of months ago, and now has been refused the funds and authority to centralize action against the flu.
At the time Congress was in the process of approving the “emergency” legislation to combat the mosquito transmitted disease, spreading even to the capital Buenos Aires, when Casa Rosada ordered to stop the proposal arguing it would be detrimental for the tourism industry.
In spite of the erosion process apparently Ms Ocaña has refrained from an immediate resignation not to distract attention or further impair the Kirchner couple in the middle of a crucial mid term election.
Furthermore Ms Ocaña has the support of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner but not from the “strong man” Mr. Kirchner, who is inclined to back the powerful teamsters’ union leader Hugo Moyano, a man very jealous of the “welfare” funds managed autonomously by the Argentine unions which include Health ministry fat checks.
She also lost ground when her sponsor and protector cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez left the Kirchner administration a few months ago, following the farm taxes debacle.
The A/H1N1 flu pandemic is not expected to peak in Argentina for some time given the winter months and the fact that most of the contagion so far refer to “imported cases”, people who have travelled overseas, usually in the higher income bracket.
Nobody knows what can happen when the disease begins to spread among the swelling slum areas, cold and badly fed, surrounding Buenos Aires.