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Ministry Considers Pandemic preparedness

Pandemic preparedness - Statements attributed to Dr Mark Jacobs, Director of Public Health

The Ministry of Health is working to ensure New Zealand is as prepared as possible in the event of a pandemic, such as bird flu.

We have been planning for such a scenario since the late 1990s and continue to do so. The Ministry is the lead agency in this project.

The Government has committed $26 million to buy 835,000 Tamiflu treatment courses. Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is an antiviral treatment that can be used within 48 hours of symptoms appearing.

Earlier this month a shipment of Tamiflu brought the total stock numbers in New Zealand to 470,000 treatment courses. By the end of the year we will have enough anti-virals to treat 21 per cent of the population, as planned.

Details of the use of Tamiflu will be confirmed once we know the exact nature of the pandemic. The Ministry has also started working with an expert pandemic planning advisory group.

The Ministry is currently exploring options for getting access as quickly as possible to pandemic vaccine supply, once a vaccine is developed and available. No vaccine for bird flu is currently commercially available.

We will continue to update and strengthen New Zealand's pandemic preparedness plan.

Because they are likely to run out quickly when a pandemic strikes, we have financed and are about to make available to District Health Boards additional infection control supplies - personal protective equipment - sufficient to outfit frontline staff, including primary healthcare personnel, for a period of two-three months.

We have invested money in enhancing surveillance activities which are already highly regarded internationally, as well as investing in a high containment laboratory to be developed at Wallaceville, near Wellington.

In addition to the work being done by District Health Boards, the Ministry ran a workshop on pandemic preparedness for family doctors and other primary care professionals at the Primary Focus conference, and will continue to work with primary care in strengthening our ability to respond to a pandemic


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