NST Leader: Make it compulsory

Annual vaccination is the most important measure to prevent seasonal influenza infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared 2020 and beyond as the decade for disease elimination.

Meaning, the countdown has started to achieve disease elimination targets as outlined in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It includes quashing emerging diseases, such as AIDS, tuberculosis, leptospirosis and chikungunya, as public health threats and achieving universal health coverage by 2030.

Yet, incidences of emerging and infectious diseases are more frequent of late and new diseases have surfaced in several countries.

The pneumonia outbreak reported in Wuhan, China, for instance, is caused by a new strain of corona or flu virus.

Dozens have fallen ill and some are in critical condition, but no death yet reported. The symptoms include high fever, breathing difficulties and lung lesions, the Wuhan health commission said.

Malaysia has not been spared — some 120 cases of Influenza A, with one death, have been reported in Penang, Selangor, Pahang and Negri Sembilan since the start of 2020.

On Dec 8, Malaysia saw its first polio case in nearly three decades, this newspaper reported. And in 2017, the Health Ministry disclosed there were some 25,000 tuberculosis cases with more than 1,900 deaths.

Alarm bells should start ringing now. The World Economic Forum reported that emerging diseases are likely to cause major epidemics. WHO also acknowledges that another influenza pandemic is unavoidable, although the severity and time frame are unknown.

It has, however, identified eight diseases that are likely to cause severe epidemics, among them Ebola, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), Nipah and chikungunya.

Historically, the worst flu pandemic was between 1918 and 1920, known as the Spanish flu caused by the H1N1 virus, which infected 500 million people and killed 40 million worldwide.

The outbreak in Wuhan certainly appears reminiscent of the SARS scare in the early 2000s. SARS, first discovered in China in 2003, had spread to two dozen countries and killed 774 people and infected more than 8,000.

Scientists have cited urban migration, population increase, more international air travel and climate change as among the reasons for outbreaks of new diseases. The fact is, national health has become an international challenge.

An outbreak at any place must be seen as a threat to all countries, especially those that serve as popular travel destinations.

For Malaysia this is pertinent, especially with Visit Malaysia Year 2020. With the visa waiver for India and Chinese tourists in force, some 30 million visitors are expected here.

Imagine the dire situation if a visitor is down with an infectious flu during his visit — how the virus can spread if health authorities fail to detect and contain it.

Health authorities, it must be noted, have taken measures to protect our shores against foreign viruses.

Thermal scanners have been installed at international airports and other entry points to ensure visitors undergo health screening. Quarantine sites have also been identified.

But more can be done. This includes a national health policy that calls for compulsory vaccination for infectious diseases including flu viruses, and making available the influenza vaccine at hospitals and clinics.

Annual vaccination is the most important measure to prevent seasonal influenza infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, which also recommends that “all people aged six months and older be vaccinated” against the flu virus.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/leaders/2020/01/555445/nst-leader-make-it-compulsory

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