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  • Swine flu science update: 14 May 2009


The race to develop a vaccine for swine flu has been at the forefront of scientists' minds this week as A(H1N1) virus continues to spread around the globe.

Medical doctor Bernadine Healy wrote on online news site US News and World Report that improved technology for mass production of a vaccine must be a top priority, describing universal immunisation as "impossible".

But developing countries are nevertheless raring to go.

The Jakarta Post reported that researchers from Airlangga University in Surabaya, Central Java, are ready to develop a vaccine.

"Developing the vaccine for the H1N1 virus is very feasible since we already have the experience in developing the vaccine for bird flu," Airlangga University's deputy rector told the Antara news agency.

In New Delhi, the Hindustan Times said that although no swine flu cases have been reported in India so far, the country's top scientists were working on developing a vaccine and had the support of government.

And in the West, Edinburgh's Evening News reported that UK health secretary Alan Johnson told members of parliament that UK scientists were "very close" to developing a vaccine for swine flu. "The time it will take to manufacture and produce it will be at least five to six months, but ... the first step has been taken, and we have actually identified the isolate."

But while the world waits for a vaccine, experts and journalists are drawing attention to a lack of A(H1N1) diagnostic capacity in Africa.

Luis Gomes Sambo, WHO regional director for Africa, told an Extraordinary Meeting of Health Ministers of Central African States in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, this week (11 May) that the region must strengthen laboratory capacity to enable rapid case confirmation.

"It is very important at this stage to create greater awareness of the disease and get all sectors involved, particularly the community to guarantee the success of preventive and control measures," said Sambo.

UN humanitarian news and analysis source IRIN reported from Dakar that no cases have been confirmed in Africa, causing medical experts to question whether this is good luck or the continent's lack of fully equipped influenza testing facilities.

A number of publications have provided free resources on A(H1N1) to those with internet access. The Lancet has launched a H1N1 Flu Resource Centre for health professionals containing information on the prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of the virus, as has the New England Journal of Medicine.

Information company Thomson Reuters will publish a daily disease briefing on the virus. And Vector and Zoonotic Diseases has made its A(H1N1) research open access until the end of this month (May).

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