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WHO experts warn ‘start producing Tamiflu’

WHo experts have urged Middle Eastern countries to start producing their own drugs, amid fears of an avian flu pandemic

“We remain unsure about Tamiflu’s effectiveness. It is crucial that countries in the Middle East start developing their own technical facilities, rather than wait to import expensive medicines from abroad at the risk of their populations.”

This is the message from Dr Hassan al-Bushra, the World Health Organisation’s regional advisor for communicable diseases surveillance. Speaking alongside Dr John Habbour, the WHO’s international health regulations officer, Dr al-Bushra urged governments in the Middle East to “Start producing your own drugs.”

Human cases of avian flu have now been found in three Middle Eastern countries: Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. Infected poultry has also been found in Lebanon, Kuwait, Israel
and Gaza.

Following WHO recommendations, the Jordan and Egyptian governments have implemented widespread awareness campaigns aimed at educating the public on preventive measures. Experts are urgently calling for a similar campaign to be rolled out across the UAE.

Dr al-Bushra said: “There was a momentary decrease in the frequency of awareness campaigns prior to the first detection in humans in Egypt. We all soon realised that there was no room for such laxities, however relative.” Underlining the gravity of the situation, he added: “This is a global threat.”

However, the UAE government claims it is fully prepared for an outbreak. Dr Abdul Chaffar Abdul Ghafoor, assistant undersecretary for curative medicine, said: “We have made plans. We receive weekly border reports, so we monitor any developments, and we have stocks of Tamiflu in place. There is no need for concern.”

But health workers remain unconvinced. A Dubai pharmacist told Healthcare Middle East: “The Government says it is prepared, but our pharmacy doesn’t have any stocks of Tamiflu and I don’t know of any others that do. I think they are just trying to stop people panicking.”

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