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Bird flu: Centre to stock 1m doses of anti-viral drug

Special Correspondent

In touch with Swiss company Roche and Glaxo SmithKline

NEW DELHI : The Union Government will stockpile one million doses of anti-viral drug to deal with the avian flu in case the epidemicstrikes India. To meet this requirement, the Union Health Ministry is in consultation with Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche which manufactures Tamiflu, and Glaxo SmithKline, makers of an anti-viral inhaler effective in controlling the disease.

Talking to reporters here on Wednesday, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said though there was no immediate threat there was a lot of panic among the people. "Besides stockpiling of medicines, we are also ensuring adequate infrastructure, laboratory facilities and vaccine availability. We will hold talks with the representatives of Roche in a couple of days to discuss the quantity of drug the company can provide us,'' he said after a meeting World Health Organisation (WHO) officials.

WHO stock

The WHO has three million doses of drugs available with it for global use, of which 15,000 to 20,000 doses would be used exclusively for South Asia. "The drugs will be supplied to the affected country within a few hours when required,'' Dr. Anbumani said adding that he had asked WHO to convene a meeting of SAARC countries to promote cooperation on the issue. The Ministry had written to the Prime Minister asking him to hold a review and preparedness meeting. It was awaiting a response, though Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil was scheduled to review the situation on Friday. Even Army could be called out in case the need arose.

Mr. Anbumani said they were ready to give licenses to the Indian companies to manufacture generic versions of the anti-viral drugs, if they approached it. So far, no company has approached the Ministry, though they are believed to be in touch with Roche to seek permission to manufacture the drug.

Patent issue

On the patent issue, he said they had sought legal advise from the Industrial Development Department for manufacturing the generic version of the drug in India as Roche's patent was pending. The Ministry has also set up a committee to look into the issue related to the shortage of raw material to make the drugs and ways to procure it from China and Germany.

India has take 10,000 blood samples of birds as part of surveillance measures, including those from a West Bengal bird sanctuary, and the results so far were negative.

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