Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) welcomes Roche's donation of three million treatment courses of the antiviral oseltamivir to a WHO international antiviral stockpile. WHO would use this stockpile to respond quickly to an emerging influenza pandemic.
As part of its work to prepare for, detect and mitigate the impact of an influenza pandemic, WHO is creating an international stockpile of antiviral drugs for rapid response at the start of a pandemic. In an agreement signed today, Roche has committed to providing three million treatment courses (30 million capsules) of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to WHO, which would be dispatched to people in greatest need at the site of an emerging influenza pandemic.
Oseltamivir could help to reduce illness and death, and when combined with other measures, could potentially contain an emerging pandemic virus or slow its national and international spread. If it reaches the site of an outbreak quickly, an antiviral stockpile could especially help people in poorer countries.
"Right now, many wealthy countries are creating their own stockpiles of antivirals. However poor countries simply cannot afford to do this. If a flu pandemic were to emerge in a poor country for example, these drugs could be flown quickly to the centre of a potential pandemic," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO, during an influenza news conference today in Geneva. "We urge other countries to help us build up the international stockpile."
The WHO stockpile is meant to complement other measures of international and national preparedness, including any national stockpiles.
WHO is carefully monitoring the ongoing avian influenza outbreaks in parts of Asia, Russia and Kazakhstan. WHO warns that these and other outbreaks could evolve into a global influenza pandemic if the avian influenza virus changes into a form which could transmit easily between people. The longer the current avian influenza strain (H5N1) continues to circulate, the greater the possibility that people will be infected with H5N1, and therefore the greater the risk that the virus will adapt to people and trigger a pandemic.
Should a pandemic strain emerge, slowing its spread will be vital as this could buy valuable time to produce vaccines against the virus and introduce other emergency measures. Antivirals, used intensively in an area where a pandemic is emerging, combined with other measures such as quarantine and isolation, could help to delay spread.
Roche has agreed to reserve three million treatment courses (30 million capsules) for up to five years. The first one million treatment courses (10 million capsules) will be ready early next year, with the remaining two million (20 million capsules) ready before mid-2006.
The timing and severity of a flu pandemic is uncertain, but experts predict a pandemic will occur. Therefore WHO continues to urge countries to develop preparedness plans. Planning must include international cooperation between wealthy and poor countries to reduce the opportunity for national and international spread, and to reduce the death, illness and social disruption which have been a feature of all previous influenza pandemics.