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Roche To Offer Developing Countries Discounted Tamiflu

The pharmaceutical company Roche on Wednesday announced a program to help ensure developing countries have access to its antiviral Tamiflu, for “the management of a novel influenza strain defined by the WHO as having significant and current pandemic potential,” Reuters reports (Egenter, 7/1). The program will make Tamiflu, which has been shown to be effective against the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, available to developing countries for “half the price normally charged,” Dow Jones Newswires/Wall Street Journal reports (Mengewein, 7/1).

“Under the programme, which will take effect immediately, Roche will produce and store Tamiflu pandemic stockpiles for specified developing countries at a significantly reduced price with the cost spread over a number of years, the group said,” Reuters writes. The stockpiles will be released if “an influenza pandemic has been announced, or in the event of a public health emergency, upon request from the governments concerned, it said” (7/1).

Dow Jones Newswires/Wall Street Journal writes, “Some 70 countries, which are members of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, can take part in the program, [spokeswoman Martina Rupp] said.” Roche is working with the WHO, U.N. and other agencies to see if they can step in to pay the costs of Tamiflu for countries that cannot afford the antiviral, even at a reduced rate (7/1).

Health Experts Recommend High-Risk Groups Skip Hajj To Avoid H1N1

On Tuesday, a group of international health experts recommended that those at greatest risks from the H1N1 virus – children, patients with chronic diseases, pregnant women and the elderly – “avoid making the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia to prevent catching swine flu,” the AP/Washington Post reports. The announcement followed the conclusion of a four-day meeting between the WHO, CDC and Saudi health officials.

“The recommendations come as some in the Muslim world have raised questions about the risk posed by swine flu to the millions attending the annual Muslim pilgrimage, which takes place this year in December, with some even suggesting quarantining people returning from Saudi Arabia,” the newspaper writes.

The groups also “urged that the kingdom maintain adequate screening for the virus at entry points used by pilgrims and that pilgrims receive flu shots at least two weeks before they travel to Mecca and Medina and the swine flu vaccine once it is available” (Abu-Nasr, 6/30).

U.S. Health Officials Credit H1N1 Preparedness To Lessons Learned From Previous Flu Outbreaks

U.S. public health officials said Tuesday that lessons learned from earlier flu outbreaks allowed for the country’s swift response to the H1N1, CQ Politics reports.

“The public health measures that were put in place [after the bird flu scare several years ago] were quite sensible,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an H1N1 briefing, co-sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Congressional Global Health Caucus. Fauci and Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine spoke about how health experts continue to watch how the H1N1 virus is behaving during southern hemisphere’s winter and discussed the preparations needed should the U.S. be faced with a mass immunization campaign (Robillard, 6/30). A webcast of the event is available online.

Buenos Aires Declares Health Emergency In Response To H1N1

In response to a rising number of H1N1 cases in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the government has declared a health emergency that will extend a school holiday that begins Monday by two weeks, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The emergency declaration gives Buenos Aires city health authorities expanded power to cut through red tape to buy medical supplies or to take other measures they deem necessary,” the Wall Street Journal writes, adding, “The announcement in the capital came one day after federal Health Minister Graciela Ocana resigned, under fire for the government’s handling of swine flu and a previous outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue fever” (Moffett, 7/1).

20-Year-Old Becomes Spain’s First H1N1 Fatality; H1N1 Reported In Mauritius

Spanish health authorities on Tuesday announced the country’s first swine flu fatality, VOA News reports. The victim, a 20-year-old Moroccan woman, was seven months pregnant and had asthma when she succumbed to respiratory illness. “Earlier, doctors performed a Cesarean section to save her premature baby, who was in good health but on a respirator,” VOA News writes.

Mauritius became the eighth African nation to report swine flu after health authorities confirmed the country’s first case of swine flu on Monday. The patient, “a visiting French tourist” was “confined … to his room for five days and released … after treatment,” VOA News writes (6/30).

More Labs In India To Diagnose H1N1

On Monday, Ghulam Nabi Azad, India’s health minister, announced 16 new laboratories in the country will have the capacity to diagnose H1N1 within eight hours beginning July 1, the Telegraph reports. “Sources said the move will save several hours in diagnosis,” the newspaper writes (6/29).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.