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Ministry leaves NZ unprepared for bird flu

Ministry leaves New Zealand unprepared for bird flu

New Zealand is woefully unprepared for a potential outbreak of bird flu, which experts warn could be on the brink of crossing to humans, Green Party Health Spokesperson Sue Kedgley says.

There is only a tiny stockpile in New Zealand of the only anti-viral drug that is considered to be effective in combating bird flu, should it cross to humans.

“The Ministry of Health has confirmed, in answer to a written question from me, that it has supplies for only 20,000 treatments of one anti-viral drug. This would not even begin to cover 45,000 front line health professionals - never mind the rest of us. That amount would treat only about 0.5 percent of the population, Ms Kedgley said.

"Australia is building sizable stockpiles of antiviral drugs, and Japan has enough to provide treatment to 20 per cent of the population. Why on earth does New Zealand not have a similar supply.

“I’m staggered that the Ministry has had over a year to increase the stockpile of drugs but did nothing about it till December. It seems to me they are stalling on the purchase to try and save money. It now seems they’re still trying to negotiate over supplies and there is no guarantee that we will even get them this year.

“The Minister acknowledges in answer to my question that the date is dependent on ‘production schedules’ - and given that countries all over the world are desperately trying to stockpile this particular anti-viral drug, this means there is no guarantee that the supplies will arrive.

“In the meantime we are left woefully unprepared with only enough medication for 20 000 treatments. And this begs the question, which health professionals are going to get it first.”

“It’s unpleasant and scary to have to think about this, but it is essential that we do, otherwise we might find ourselves caught in a crisis, Ms Kedgley said.

“With the WHO warning that the disease seems to be mutating to humans, we need to be properly prepared. Experts warn that if the pandemic arrives it will be an immediate threat to the health of nearly everyone on earth, because none of us have an underlying immunity to the new strain, which could spread through air travel to most countries within three months of an outbreak.

“With the numbers of travellers entering New Zealand ever increasing it is almost inevitable that an outbreak would quickly reach our shores.

“Experts already acknowledge that the supply of anti-viral drugs would be grossly inadequate at the start of any epidemic and that there would be an international scramble to get them. That’s why it’s essential that we should have planned ahead.”

Ms Kedgley said the Ministry of Health made the initial purchase of the medication well over a year ago.

“Given that health experts have been calling on the Government to stockpile anti-viral medical for some time now, I can’t understand why the Ministry of Health has not negotiated for further supplies over the past year, and why we are left exposed, possibly until the end of the year, before we get additional supplies of the medication.

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