KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canada is unlikely to dip into its limited supply of H1N1 vaccine to help meet Afghanistan’s plea for help to deal with a pandemic that has already claimed 11 lives in the country.
Both civilian and military officials have indicated that Canada’s stockpiles of the vaccine are too low to make doses available to Afghan civilians.
There have been 779 confirmed cases of swine flu in Afghanistan since July, when the virus is believed to have spread from a group of four American soldiers at Bagram Air Base.
Of those cases, 320 were identified among foreign troops.
“So far we don’t have any preventive vaccines,” said Dr Ahmad Farid Raaid, a spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health.
The ministry is expecting to receive a shipment of 550,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine from World Health Organization donors by next week. It has already shut schools across the country for a three-week period in an effort to stop the virus from spreading.
Most of the cases have been concentrated in Kabul, where an outbreak was recently detected at an Afghan National Army recruiting centre. But cases have also been identified in Parwan, Kandahar and Herat.
“If the situation deteriorates, we may need more medicine,” said Raaid.
But Canada won’t be contributing to the shipment, even though the Afghan government sent a request to the embassy for support over the weekend.
“We will try to help them… but it may be difficult to respond to the request for vaccine given the shortages in Canada,” Ambassador Bill Crosbie told The Canadian Press.
The Canadian military, which started vaccinating soldiers and affiliated civilians last week, acknowledged its own supplies were too low to provide vaccinations to locals.
“It’s not something we have the mandate to do at present,” said Task Force Surgeon Cmdr. Rob Briggs.
“And at this point the vaccine is in such sort supply that that’s likely not going to be forthcoming.”
Various Canadian government departments are in the process of determining other ways to respond to Kabul’s request, including the possibility of sending medical supplies.
“There will be a consultation with our own public health officials about what we can provide given the circumstances,” said Crosbie.
So far, more than 2,000 of the 2,800 Canadian soldiers in Kandahar have been vaccinated. Consular staff in Kabul have also received their shots.
There are, however, no firm numbers indicating how many Canadian soldiers have actually contracted the virus because the military lacks the required lab equipment.