By Juan David Leal
MEXICO CITY – Mexico will ask hospitals to defer non-essential surgeries and reserve available beds to be able to better face the “climax” of the new outbreak of the AH1N1 flu virus, which according to calculations by the authorities here could require the hospitalization of as many as 10,000 people.
In an interview with Efe, Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said that to confront the coming flu season the government has strengthened health measures “so that all public institutions reserve around 12 percent of their bed capacity for the climax, when there are more cases.”
The country’s public hospital network has 85,000 beds and the private network around 10,000.
Converting certain areas in hospitals into intensive care units and modifying emergency admission locations to prevent the mixing of flu patients with other patients are some of the measures included in the government’s contingency plan to deal with a possible major resurgence in flu cases in the coming months.
Mexico is currently experiencing its third outbreak of the disease since it issued its first alert over the presence of the AH1N1 virus in the country at the end of April, and this time there has been a significant increase in infections.
In the face of the outbreak, which began on Sept. 8, the government closed as many as 2,961 schools, though most have since reopened.
“We’ve also asked – once the hospital demand begins to increase in a very significant way – for surgeries that are not urgent be limited or suspended,” Cordova said.
The measure seeks to avoid unnecessarily taking up the 7,500 available respirators in the country’s hospitals, equipment which is crucial for treating patients with illnesses like swine flu.
That capacity will be augmented with the acquisition of 700 additional units, which will arrive in Mexico in the next two weeks.
“The great challenge is containment, (and) – in the primary care centers, in the special areas of hospitals and in the (mobile) health trailers – the greater part of the cases can be handled early on to prevent them from getting worse and having to be hospitalized,” the minister said.
Health Department calculations point to the possibility that during the winter the country could experience between 1 million and 5 million cases of swine flu and the virus could cause up to 2,000 deaths.
Cordova said that this is a controllable figure given that so far in 2009 there have been 17 million cases of respiratory illnesses in Mexico and every year about 14,000 people die in the country from illnesses of this kind.
In Mexico, there have been more than 29,000 cases of the AH1N1 virus, according to the latest figures, 226 of which have been fatal, representing “a very tiny percentage” of the total, the minister said.
Cordova said it was “improbable” that there would be any more widespread closures of schools, universities, restaurants and leisure establishments, as occurred in May when authorities did not yet know where the virus had come from, and he added that now it is known that the swine flu is “treatable and curable” with a lethality rate of just 0.8 percent.
The country has a strategic reserve of 2.5 million doses of flu vaccine, but if the situation becomes “extreme” the government will authorize Mexican laboratories to manufacture the necessary medicine temporarily, without regard for patents.
Additionally, the government is on the verge of wrapping up negotiations to receive at the end of October an advance shipment of 2 million of the total 30 million doses of vaccine it acquired from two European pharmaceutical labs.
The “ideal” situation would be to receive 4 million doses of vaccine in October so that medical personnel around the country could be vaccinated, 4 million additional doses in November, 8 million in December, and the rest at the beginning of next year, Cordova said. EFE