November 6, 2009

Swine flu in Mongolia

From the American Embassy in Mongolia:
The Mongolian Ministry of Health has reported, as of November 5, 2009, 884 laboratory-confirmed cases. They reported 706 confirmed cases in Ulaanbaatar and 178 cases in 17 Aimags.

On November 3, the State Emergency Commission has declared a state of 'increased preparedness' for the next two weeks which includes several emergency measures aimed at curbing the spread of H1N1 in Mongolia. The most important measures include:
  • Temporarily suspending all cultural and sports events.
  • Closing disco clubs and merchandise markets. Please note that food markets, public catering places, and restaurants will continue to operate.
  • Extending the school and kindergarten break until Nov 17.
  • Passenger transportation services between cities and towns will be limited and domestic travelers will be subject to temperature screening.
  • All scheduled conferences, seminars, and military call-ups will be postponed for two weeks.
  • Health care services will be provided in the university and college campuses and dormitories.
  • No meetings or seminars involving delegates from provinces shall be organized in Ulaanbaatar.

For those back home, Missouri which has a population 3 times larger than Mongolia and has only reported about 180 cases of H1N1, compared to Mongolia's 900 cases. Even though Mongolia just had it's first case of swine flu a month ago, the news is reporting that Mongolia has the 2nd fastest rate of new cases of swine flu in the world this week. And, as you can imagine, the media doesn't always have its facts straight about H1N1, causing many people to panic.

Mongolia has it's share of respiratory illnesses because of the frigid dry winter air, but you can add severe pollution in Ulaanbaatar to that. Throw in a respiratory flu like H1N1 and you have a formula for disaster. And Mongolia's health care system is like many developing countries, not able to cope. The World Health Organization pledged enough vaccine for 2% of the population, about 3000 people in the whole country. And hospitals are reporting that they just don't have the oxygen capacity needed for so many patients. There are so many things we take for granted in the west.

Most of my students, for the last several weeks, have worn facemasks to and during class. They've gone far beyond 'white' to being of fashionable designs and colors. During that time, many questioned if we should continue classes or not. The mid-semester one-week break for school children was extended another week, and now extended to November 17th. Kindergartens are permanently closed until further notice. Bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues must close by 9PM, all in an effort to control the spread of the flu.

My class numbers for Tuesday were eight and five students for both of my classes (out of 40 registered). Wednesday the government told organizations to cancel all activities for the next two weeks. That means churches and temples like ours have to close our doors. We only had two more weeks of English classes, so we just decided to end the semester early instead of postponing classes. Once the ban for gathering lifts, we'll have registration for the next semester.


No one has been sick at the center, so life goes on pretty much like it always does. I have a little break to rest and to catch up, which I needed badly. But don't worry, it won't be a holiday as I still have too much work to do. Life goes on, doesn't it.