Anti-H1N1 strategies
By Lyna Mohamad

His Royal Highness Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Deputy Sultan yesterday reiterated that the current Pandemic Influenza Plan needs to be increased and strengthened by taking into account the rising number of cases and incidents occurring globally due to the effect of the Influenza A Virus (H1N1).

HRH yesterday consented to attend the Special Meeting to discuss plans and preparations in tackling the current outbreak of the H1N1, held at the Department of Fire and Rescue's multipurpose hall.

In his opening address, HRH noted that in declaring the concern level from phase five to phase six, WHO faced several challenges in tracing the spread of the virus in various countries.

"What is obvious is that the human-to-human infection level has proliferated rapidly and its potential to further spread is a very serious threat to the safety of our citizens too," HRH stated.

The world now faces the pandemic with WHO reporting a total of 61,688 infected cases and 265 fatalities in 112 countries.

Infections in some of the affected areas including neighbouring countries in Asia are in a cluster while spreading it domestically too amongst the country's residents.

His Royal Highness said what was previously the nation's worry has now become a reality where the sultanate is not exempted from the threat of the virus.

Although the numbers of confirmed infected cases do not involve unwanted effects, the number of victims suffering from the virus will increase and this is a reality that we need to address and be prepared to tackle.

To date, efforts by the related agencies particularly the Health Ministry, are guided by the measures suggested by WHO, in ensuring close monitoring, thorough inspection and sharing of information as well as concerted action with other related agencies.

HRH also noted that the latest step of extending the school term holidays is a monitoring and preventive measure which is reasonable and proactive. Such efforts are definitely required from all government agencies in establishing effective action coordination and implementation of organised control and preventive measures.

The government and private sectors need to prepare their respective action plans and at the same time take preventive measures.

There is also a need to always be ready to face the worst case scenario considering that there are no stronger preventive measures such as vaccine that have been proven effective.

HRH highlighted that questions need to be raised and given serious thought to ascertain about our readiness in facing the surprising and more than predicted increases number of infections. What plans are envisaged should the virus become more severe, having the potential to cause fatality. And do we have enough logistics and human resources capacity to conduct a wide quarantine situation.

The role of the public is no less of importance in shouldering the responsibilities together in preventing the virus from spreading more seriously in the country, HRH said while stressing that the success of all efforts made by His Majesty's government will not be achievable without the involvement and cooperation from every level of the community.

Main agencies need to merge to establish a media centre that is always ready to disseminate the latest update on the situation of the virus, adding that the dissemination of clear, accurate and direct information is the most effective way to ensure the public will take serious note on advice given by the Health Ministry and relevant agencies.

Research and screening procedures are also needed to ensure that the public are not doubtful towards the treatment and medical steps that need to be taken as well as the optimal use of ICT services such as the use of SMS, internet and media.

Such steps, the Crown Prince added can ensure that citizens and residents will be more aware and ready to practise preventive measures in maintaining personal hygiene, lessen the risk of exposure from infections and obeying the quarantine orders to those involved.

Meanwhile in the closing sabda, HRH said that the sharing of information and experience from involved parties and of importance at international level such as WHO must always be made as the main platform from various aspects and actions towards the stabilisation of a more comprehensive and updated action plan.

In the nation's current situation of the virus threat, measurement and re-evaluation of the communication effectiveness amongst agency and public members particularly on preventive measures, is critical.

HRH called on relevant parties to think of methods on how such effectiveness can be achieved in ensuring the steps are directed towards the control and prevention of the virus can be implemented more effectively.

Amongst the efforts that is appropriate to be taken is the stressing of self-isolation for those infected and its closest contacts besides practising responsible attitude and unselfishness to curb the more critical spread of the infection.

HRH further urged all government agencies to be always ready to face the situation that is threatening their respective working scope should the possibility of its officers and staff get infected with the disease. Every agency should prepare a business continuity plan that could secure the implementation of respective activities, HRH added. - Borneo Bulletin (1st July 2009)