Bird Flu Alarm

2005-11-26-Taiwan Plans on Tamiflu to Treat Bird Flu

Understanding Avian Influenza

2005-11-26-Taiwan Plans on Tamiflu to Treat Bird Flu

JAKARTA, Indonesia Nov 26, 2005 ? Indonesia reported a new human bird flu infection on Saturday, and Taiwan joined other Asian governments in announcing it wanted to produce the anti-viral drug Tamiflu to treat people infected with the virus.

Tamiflu, otherwise known as Oseltamivir, has shown promise in the treatment of bird flu infections in humans. Countries around the world are trying to stockpile the drug in the event of a human pandemic, which experts fear could kills millions.

At least 68 people have died from the virus in Asia since 2003, most in Vietnam. Almost all cases have been linked to contact with sick poultry. But health experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that is easily passed from human to human and spread rapidly across the globe.

Indonesia and Vietnam have secured permission from Swiss-based drug manufacturer Roche Holding AG to make the medicine, while other countries are in talks with the company.

Taiwan has said it plans to produce Tamiflu for domestic use when stocks supplied by Roche run out. But Roche, which holds the patent on the drug in Taiwan, said it was surprised by Taiwan's move and called it unnecessary because the company will meet its agreement to deliver 2.3 million Tamiflu treatments, covering 10 percent of the island's population, next year.

World Trade Organization regulations allow for drug patents to be violated in the event of medical emergencies, providing the patent holder is compensated at a later date.

Roche and Taiwan have been discussing licensing terms for the drug's production locally, but there are fears the talks could drag on. Roche said in its statement that no Taiwanese company could produce the drug more rapidly or at a lower cost than Roche.

Taiwan's first case of bird flu caused by the virulent and lethal H5N1 strain was confirmed last month in birds smuggled in from China. But the island has not recorded any human infections.

On Friday, Roche said Indonesia could produce Tamiflu on the condition it did not export it.

"Tamiflu does not have patent protection in Indonesia," Roche spokesman Baschi Duerr said from the company's headquarters in Switzerland. "Indonesia is therefore free to produce Tamiflu as long as the product is distributed only in the domestic market."

Indonesia's Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said Saturday the country hoped to start producing Tamiflu within five months, and wants to stockpile enough to treat some 22 million people around 10 percent of its population.

"We don't want to Indonesia to become the source of a bird flu pandemic," she told reporters. "This shows that we are serious in dealing with bird flu."

Earlier Saturday, Indonesian health officials confirmed a 16-year-old boy had tested positive for the H5N1 strain of bird flu virus, bringing to 12 the number of cases reported in Indonesia. Seven have been fatal.

Senior Health Ministry official Hariadi Wibisono said the boy, from the town of Bandung, around 90 miles south of Jakarta, probably had contact with infected chickens.

Vietnam and China reported new outbreaks of the virus among poultry.

In hard-hit Vietnam, officials reported new infections in southern Long An province, the Department of Animal Health said on its Web site. Outbreaks have been reported in 19 other provinces since October, killing or forcing the slaughter of more than 1 million birds, it said.

Also in Vietnam, a man suspected of being infected with the H5N1 strain fled a hospital quarantine unit, state-controlled media reported Friday. Officials in his home province have been trying to persuade him to return to the hospital, the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper said.

China detected a new outbreak of the H5N1 virus in the northern Inner Mongolia region, its Agricultural Ministry said Friday, bringing the total number of outbreaks for the country in recent weeks to at least 22. The latest outbreak killed 246 birds at a farm in the city of Zalantun on Nov. 20, prompting officials to kill 16,567 birds in the area, the ministry said.

China, which has the world's largest number of chickens, has called bird flu a "serious epidemic." Earlier this week, it confirmed its second human death from the disease.

Understanding Avian Influenza