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1027 Swine flu panic shuts down 2,000
schools [Iraq]--Panic over the possible spread of H1N1 influenza
has prompted the closure of more than 2,000 schools in Iraq, according to
Education Minister Khudhair Al-Khuzaie said the unauthorized closure of
schools was “illegal and unprofessional” and blamed “exaggerated media
reports that have created such a panic”.
“Over the past week, we diagnosed four cases of H1N1 influenza among school
students in the southern province of Kut, then the number increased to 25
cases and that prompted us to quarantine and shut down the school [where the
cases were detected],” said Ihsan Jaafar, a senior Health Ministry official.
A few days later, other cases were confirmed in six Baghdad schools. “We’ve
also closed them and that brings the total number of schools closed based on
decisions issued by the Health Ministry to seven,” Jaafar told IRIN.
“Unjustified panic” had prompted some officials in southern Iraq to close
schools where no H1N1 cases had been detected, a measure “unacceptable to
the Health Ministry,” Jaafar said.
On 20 October, two local officials in the southern provinces of Thi Qar and
Kut said that nearly 2,500 schools and kindergartens would be closed to
prevent the disease from spreading.
Muthana Hassan Mahdi of Kut education directorate said a five-day
precautionary shutdown had been in force since 21 October in 950 schools and
Meanwhile, Hadi Al-Riyahi, a local health official, said 1,477 schools would
be closed in Thi Qar for 10 days from 22 October.
Kut is 160km and Thi Qar is 320km south of Baghdad.
Schools should only be closed for a week if a teacher and 2-3 students have
the disease, Jaafar said. Those infected would be quarantined and the school
sterilized. Students and infected students' families would be closely
monitored, he added.
Tamiflu stocks were sufficient for 300,000 cases; another batch of 150,000
doses was expected in the next few days, he said.
According to the Health Ministry, the total number of confirmed H1N1 cases
in Iraq is 523, of whom 113 are Iraqis and the rest foreigners, including
members of the US forces. The death toll stands at three.
Education Minister Al-Khuzaie said overcrowding due to a shortage of school
buildings represented an increased risk factor. He said US$4 billion was
needed to build more than 4,500 new schools to ease overcrowding in Iraq’s
roughly 19,000 schools.
1027 Swine flu risk for Cairo’s
overcrowded schools [Egypt]--The Egyptian ministries of health
and education have ordered all schools in Cairo to halve the number of
children in each class to mitigate the possible spread of H1N1 influenza -
no small challenge in this overcrowded city of 20 million.
The resulting uncertainty has led schoolchildren to attend classes on three
alternate days a week instead of six under a long-running double-shift
system designed to ease overcrowding.
“I go to school on the second shift on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday now,”
Toqa Ali, 13, a student at Abdullah Ibn Rawaha School in the Imbaba area of
Cairo, told IRIN. She said she used to have up to 80 children in her class
but there were now around 25 as children were attending on alternate days
and some were staying at home for fear of catching H1N1.
Toqa said she and many other children wore surgical masks in play time but
tended to take them off in classrooms, which now have the windows open and
fans on most of the time.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in conjunction with the Health Ministry,
has run an extensive awareness campaign with TV advertisements, public
service announcements and awareness kits.
“We are distributing awareness kits in all schools in Egypt on avian flu and
H1N1. In fact, we already had a distribution network set up for avian flu so
now we are just adding H1N1,”said Hala Abu Khatwa, chief of communications
for UNICEF in Egypt.
WHO school guidelines
A World Health Organization (WHO) briefing note in September for schools
said schools could serve as a vector for spreading the virus.
It recommends hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, proper cleaning, good
ventilation, isolation of staff or students who fall ill and measures to
“Decisions about if and when schools should be closed during the pandemic
are complex and highly context-specific. WHO cannot provide specific
recommendations for or against school closure that are applicable to all
However, it said that the timing of school closures was critically important
and that “modelling studies suggest that school closure has its greatest
benefits when schools are closed very early in an outbreak, ideally before 1
percent of the population fall ill.”
To close or not to close?
“While slowing the speed of spread of H1N1 by schools’ closure can buy some
time as countries intensify preparedness measures, there are a lot of
discrepancies about it, as school closure is associated with social and
economic impacts,”said Rana Zaqout, head of the Pandemic Influenza
Contigency (PIC) unit for the Middle East and North Africa, which is part of
the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“As a parent, while I am concerned about the academic year, I believe that
school closure should reduce the transmission of the disease if accompanied
by policies that include measures that limit congregation of students
outside schools,” she added.
On 14 October, Education Minister Youssri el-Gamal told the Middle East News
Agency: “There is no intention of closing schools at the beginning of the
winter season.” He said only 10 children out of 20 million primary and
secondary students in the country had been infected.
Two days later, La Mère de Dieu girls’ school in Cairo became the first
school in Egypt to be closed after three H1N1 cases were discovered. The
1,200 pupils were ordered to stay at home for two weeks.
On 22 October, four private schools in the greater Cairo area were closed
for two weeks.
“The main issue is that people do not trust the government or the Health
Ministry. They don’t feel they are transparent,” Abu Khatwa of UNICEF told
A number of classrooms in schools in Cairo and Alexandria have also been
closed for two weeks on orders from their respective city governors.
Ahmed Ali, a teacher at Youssri al-Gamal School in Imbaba (Cairo), felt that
overcrowding was the enduring problem. While he was happy to see his
70-children classes more than halved this term, he still had concerns:
“I can’t teach them the same curriculum in half the time. The Education
Ministry will have to delay exams this semester so the students will have a
chance to pass,” Ali said.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Health Ministry said it would be receiving its first
batch of H1N1 vaccinations - some 80,000 doses - on 23 October.
“Priority will be given to pilgrims going on Hajj, doctors treating H1N1
cases, people who work in public transport and public services, journalists,
and school and university students with chronic illnesses, health
complications or a weak immune system,” Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali said
in a statement.
As of 17 October, WHO reported 14,739 laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1 in
its 22-country Eastern Mediterranean Region. Egypt had the fourth highest
number of cases - 1,053 - and two deaths.
Headlines link directly
Swine flu panic shuts down 2,000 schools [Iraq]
Swine flu risk for Cairo’s overcrowded schools [Egypt]