Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Billions Of Dollars Worth Of Tamiflu Set To Expire, Become Worthless

It was the miracle anti-viral drug that could stop a worldwide bird flu pandemic in its tracks, or so dozens of health ministers across the world would have had us believe back in 2004 and 2005.

More than 80 governments around the world have spent tens of billions of dollars stockpiling Tamiflu since bird flu began decimating poultry stocks across in Asia in 2003.

Manufacturer Roche claims enough Tamiflu was ordered to treat some 200 million people. For the poorest countries, the cost worked out to around $9 per person. For the wealthier nations, the price rose to almost $20, per person, per treatment course.

Tamiflu is supposed to last five years, claims Roche, with the proviso that it is "stored properly."

So far, the anti-viral has been used to save the lives of perhaps no more than a few dozen people across the world, primarily in Indonesia.

But the need for even some of the world's poorest countries to spend millions of dollars on the anti-viral medication was always a 'Just In Case' scenario.

Imagine if you were the leader of a country that had had the chance to stockpile Tamiflu, but you chose not to, and then a pandemic struck? You'd have been chased from office, if not strung up in the street.

But millions of doses of Tamiflu are now beginning to expire, and countries like Vietnam face a serious, and costly, choice : Should they stock up once again on another few million courses of Tamiflu? Or take their chances and go without?

From the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin :
After three years of fighting bird flu, some poor Asian nations must face a painful health dilemma: whether to spend millions of dollars to replace expiring drug stockpiles for a pandemic that may never come.

Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines will be the first on the front lines to see their stocks of Tamiflu medicine expire by year's end. Countries worldwide have been racing to stockpile the antiviral, which experts hope might help fight a pandemic flu, but no one knows for sure whether it will actually work.

Leaders must decide whether to play it safe and restock at great expense or gamble that the H5N1 bird flu virus will never become a mass killer and spend the money on diseases like AIDS or tuberculosis instead. This choice will eventually confront every nation that stockpiled antivirals amid fears that a pandemic was looming.

"If the threat lingers for many years, what happens then?" asked Megge Miller, an epidemiologist at the World Health Organization in Cambodia. "It's just (like) throwing money into a black hole."

Others do not want to see their supplies go to waste. Vietnam plans to start using its Tamiflu to treat patients with seasonal flu, hoping to use at least some of the medicine that's stored for 60,000 people before it expires in December...

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