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UN: donated bird flu treatment for poor countries

UN health agency says it will use donated bird flu treatment for poor countries

Welcoming a donation by pharmaceutical group Roche of an additional 2 million courses of antiviral bird flu treatment the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today said the medicine would be used when needed in countries that are unable to afford it.

During the last two years, six countries have reported outbreaks of avian influenza caused by the H5N1 virus in people and there have been 79 deaths. Treatment with antiviral medicines is one way to reduce death and illness and Roche's donation of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) would be stored at different locations worldwide for quick distribution.

“Regional stockpiles of oseltamivir will allow WHO to rapidly dispatch antiviral medicines to developing countries in greatest need, in the interests of affected nations and global public health,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-wook.

The Geneva-based agency is closely monitoring and helping countries to respond to outbreaks of H5N1 in humans, most recently in Turkey. So far, the virus is spreading from infected animals to humans, however WHO warns that it could change into a form that spreads easily from person to person, triggering an influenza pandemic which could kill tens of millions of people worldwide.

Responding to this threat, last September Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed David Nabarro, a senior WHO public health expert, to ensure coordinated UN support for effective local, national, regional and global preparations for this scenario, underlining strong involvement by the world body in the fight against the disease.

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