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Mexico, WHO point fingers over crisis response

A TOP Mexican medical officer has accused the World Health Organization of being slow to respond to the country's warning about a health crisis that has turned into a global swine flu scare.

Mexico's chief epidemiologist, Dr Miguel Angel Lezana, told The Associated Press late on Thursday that his center alerted the Pan American Health Organization, a regional arm of WHO, on April 16 about an unusually late rash of flu and pneumonia cases in Mexico.

But he said no action was taken until eight days later, when the WHO announced it was worried the outbreak could become a pandemic.

"It seems it should have been more immediate," Lezana, director of the National Epidemiology Center, said. He called for an investigation into WHO's handling of the crisis. WHO officials said yesterday that the agency learned on April 9 of cases of "suspicious influenza" from Mexico and responded quickly on April 24 when laboratories identified the virus as a new strain of flu.

"We moved into operation within a matter of hours," WHO spokesman Thomas Abraham told reporters.

Mexican health authorities came under criticism, particularly from frustrated citizens, for a bumbling early response to the outbreak.

In the US, the confirmed case count stood at 132. State labs said there are more cases than the confirmed number because they are not testing all suspected cases, focusing on finding new outbreak hot spots.

In Mexico, the outbreak's epicenter, new cases and the death rate were leveling off, the country's top medical officer said. Health authorities said they have confirmed 300 swine flu cases and 12 deaths due to the virus.

"The fact that we have a stabilization in the daily numbers, even a drop, makes us optimistic," Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said.


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