As Argentina’s winter season moves into full gear and the number of confirmed H1N1 flu deaths rises, suspicions are also rising about the veracity of the government’s swine flu data.
As of June 26, the latest available data, Argentina had 1,587 confirmed swine flu cases and 26 confirmed deaths, according to the Health Ministry.
That ranks Argentina third in the world in terms of confirmed deaths. It is topped only by the U.S., which has had 27,717 cases and 127 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and Mexico, which has had 8,279 cases and 116 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
La Nación columnist Joquín Morales Solá summed up the suspicions over Argentina’s official swine flu data in a column Sunday:
“In the coming days we may learn officially that the number of swine flu deaths is actually twice the figure that we now know. Some 20 (more) deaths are being studied, but health authorities suspect that these are a consequence of the same epidemic. One interpretation among doctors is that the delay in publishing the true number of deaths is related to the election. This is probable.”
A Health Ministry official spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
The lethality of the flu virus appears to be increasing worldwide, although the death rate is still extremely low and unlikely to harm anyone who gets proper treatment in a timely manner. Still, Argentina’s numbers are not inspiring. Argentina’s swine flu lethality rate is exceptionally low at about 0.01638%. But that’s still way higher than in the U.S. (0.004%) or in Chile (0.001%). It’s even higher, though just slightly, than in Mexico (0.014%) and appears to be second only to Colombia (0.027%), which has 72 confirmed cases and 2 deaths.
Talk radio shows this week contained repeated references to and interviews with guests who discussed suspected swine flu deaths that had not been officially recognized as such by health officials.
In a separate article Sunday, La Nación reported that Health Minister Graciela Ocaña will likely resign within the very near future, possibly as early as Monday following the election. Speculation over her resignation comes at a time when local media are reporting widely of unconfirmed government plans to declare a national health emergency and take drastic measures to stop the flu from spreading. The rumored measures include alleged plans to ban large public gatherings and potentially even closed-door events such as movie screenings.
The rumors may be way off base, and the government’s data may be accurate, but this hasn’t prevented massive numbers of people, including average citizens, doctors and respected writers and analysts from suspected that something is amiss.
As Argentines went to the polls on Sunday, countless thousands wondered about the safety of standing in long lines to vote, fearful that doing so would expose them to swine flu.
The fact that virtually nobody trusts the government’s statistics when it comes to other data, such as inflation, industrial production or economic growth, does nothing but exacerbate the perception that the government is not being forthright now about health statistics.
Link: WHO World Flu Map