Fighting H1N1 Flu in Southeast Asia

Laos handwashing

Schoolchildren in Laos learn the proper way to wash their hands. Photo: CRS Staff

In the U.S., parents are clamoring for H1N1 vaccines for their families.

In Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, parents don’t have that option–the vaccine isn’t there yet.

But Catholic Relief Services is drawing on its experience teaching children about bird flu (H5N1) to make sure they protect themselves against swine flu (H1N1). Both diseases—virulent strains of influenza—are present in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, over 10,000 people have H1N1, and several people have died from it.

Compounding the problem is a lack of sanitation facilities in certain poorer regions. “Some communities and schools don’t have running water,” says Greg Auberry, CRS Southeast Asia Representative. “And handwashing is not widely practiced.”

CRS started teaching children in Southeast Asia about hygiene four years ago, when deadly bird flu first appeared. Now, CRS is partnering with schools to making sure elementary students avoid spreading swine flu.

Using songs, games, and handwashing contests, the CRS programs encourage children to keep their hands clean, avoid transferring germs when sneezing, and to stay home when they’re sick.

“We’d love it if the vaccine were available here, but with or without it, handwashing is key to avoiding flu outbreaks,” says Auberry. “We hope our programs will keep kids happy and healthy.”

Laura Sheahen, CRS regional information officer for Asia and the Pacific Rim

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