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WHO in talks with Roche on bird flu stockpile

by 5m Editor
9 August 2005, at 12:00am

GLOBAL - The World Health Organization is in talks with Swiss drug maker Roche on building a stockpile of the anti-bird flu drug Tamiflu capable of treating at least one million people, its director general said on Tuesday.

WHO in talks with Roche on bird flu stockpile - GLOBAL - The World Health Organization is in talks with Swiss drug maker Roche on building a stockpile of the anti-bird flu drug Tamiflu capable of treating at least one million people, its director general said on Tuesday.

"What I am expecting to have is initially one million, and I hope that that can be multiplied," Lee Jong-wook told reporters in Thailand, one of the countries worst hit by the virus which has killed 62 people in Asia since 2003.

Basel-based Roche said last week it was considering donating a "substantial amount" of Tamiflu to the United Nations health agency, although it did not give details.

Outling a defence strategy against the killer H5N1 bird flu strain, whose latest victim -- a 32-year-old Vietnamese man -- was announced on Tuesday, Lee said rigorous health monitoring in countries at risk was essential in containing outbreaks.

"The really important issue is surveillance, surveillance, surveillance," Lee said. "On the map there are lots of boundaries, but the virus does not carry a passport."

Scientists fear the virus, which does not pass easily between humans, could mutate to become easily transmittable and unleash a global pandemic which could kill millions.

However, if national health authorities were quick to detect any outbreak, and if either national or international stockpiles of treatments such as Tamiflu were administered quickly enough, the risk of global outbreak would be reduced greatly, Lee said.

The Geneva-based WHO had enough Tamiflu to treat 125,000 people and it could be delivered swiftly anywhere in the world.

"It's a matter of hours. In today's world, we won't be shipping this out by steam boat," he said. But it would make sense to have stockpiles in regions deemed at higher risk, he said.

Lee said the United States and Europe -- which is looking increasingly at risk given the rapid spread of H5N1 across Siberia -- were waking up to the need to fund a drug stockpile against a virus which has largely only affected poor countries.

"Nobody wants to fight this battle in their own garden. They want to put it out outside," Lee said. The World Bank said it too was involved in the funding negotiations.

"We are looking at the potential economic impact of such an epidemic and we are working in that case with partners," Jacques Baudouy, director of bank's health and population department told Reuters in Bangkok.

"As we speak, in Washington there is a meeting of partners, including the EU, which want to organise some kind of trust fund," Baudouy said.

Roche says that more than 25 governments have now placed orders for Tamiflu in preparation for a potential human outbreak. Britain, for example, has said it wants a stockpile large enough to treat 2 million people.

The United States, France, Canada and Australia have similar plans.

Source: Reuters - 9th August 2005

5m Editor