Kiev - Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Tuesday said new flu infections had dropped by a factor of four, signaling, she said, dramatic success in controlling the disease's spread.
"All across Ukraine we have, at minimum, a four-fold drop (in flu infection rates) as compared with their peak from the second to the fourth of November," Tymoshenko said, in remarks reported by the Interfax news agency.
Ukraine's death toll from the disease continued to climb on Tuesday, with 174 persons dead from flu-related symptoms since a severe flu outbreak in late October, according to data published on the Ukraine Ministry of Health's website.
More than 1.3 million Ukrainians had come down with the flu, of whom more than 40,000 remained hospitalised, according to the statement.
Tymoshenko said the government efforts to control the flu's spread were a clear success, the Korrespondent web magazine reported.
"We have a situation, where the diseases has been localized in West Ukraine, and this disease is not moving further into the country," she said, according to a TSN television news report.
A Tuesday analysis by Sehodnia newspaper, Ukraine's largest daily, gave rough support to Tymoshenko's claim, showing flu deaths in double digits in only four of the country's westernmost provinces. The country's central and eastern provinces reported minimal death rates and, in some cases, no deaths at all.
But World Health Organization (WHO) officials have been more cautious in interpreting Ukraine's slowing infection rate, saying a nationwide flu vaccination programme is necessary to prevent a second and wide wave of infections.
"Everyone in the group of risk should be vaccinated," said WHO spokesman Jukka Pukkila, according to a Unian news agency report.
Ukraine's government on Monday announced it would restart a national flu vaccination programme. The programme was halted in September because of isolated deaths of children injected with the vaccine, Kommersant magazine reported.
High risk groups, including children, teachers, and health workers, will receive vaccinations, requiring the local manufacture or import of 6 - 7 million vaccination doses, said Vasyl Lozorishinets, vice health minister.
Ukraine's pharmaceutical industry produces a low-cost flu vaccine, but only England and Russia currently manufacture a swine flu vaccine for the H1N1 virus, according to the Korrespondent report.
Shortages of basic medical supplies, particularly flu remedies and surgical masks, continued to be widely reported in Ukraine on Tuesday.
Mykola Paninchiuk, head of Ivano-Frankivsk province, which has been hit hard by the flu, said central government foot dragging in releasing funds for new equipment was slowing flu treatment at area hospitals, according to an Interfax news agency report.
"We have all the releases to buy ... new equipment, but the money is not being made available," he said. "People are having to wait five to six hours to get an X-Ray." (dpa)