India is working overtime to come out with a swine flu vaccine and will soon produce the raw material used in the anti-flu drug, the government said on Thursday as eight more people died of the influenza A (H1N1) virus, taking the toll to 220.
Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said "India is taking prompt and proactive measures to delay and limit the spread of the diseases and also to build capacity to mitigate the impact of the pandemic."
He said India was among the first few countries to stake claim to produce the vaccine.
"Three companies - Serum Institute, Panaxea Bio-Tech and Bhatat Biotech are working on this and the government has given Rs 100 million each to these institutes," he told reporters here.
"The vaccine is likely to be available by April next year," he added.
He said the ministry is also in touch with multinational companies working on producing the swine flu vaccine. "We are in touch with them and will import the vaccine if they prepare it first," he added.
Azad said presently there are 53 laboratories - 31 government and 22 private - that are conducting the H1N1 tests, as compared to two when the flu was first reported in India on May 16.
Of these, 34 labs - 22 government and 12 private - are operational.
The government has also increased its medicine stockpile with 10 million Oseltamivir capsules, one of the anti-influenza drugs, to 40 million capsules, and 450,000 bottles of Oseltamivir syrup.
"We have also permitted regulated sale and distribution of Oseltamivir and Zanamivir. Both these drugs will be available in retail markets against proper medical prescription from chemists having a license," he said.
He said India will soon produce raw material for Oseltamivir, one of the drugs used in treatment of Influenza A (H1N1) virus. This will help bring down the cost of the drug.
"We have decided to allow indigenous production of shikimic acid," Azad said.
Shikimic acid, a white crystalline compound of nonnitrogenous acid found in various plants naturally, is needed to produce Oseltamivir. India is currently importing it.
Azad said an expert group has been constituted at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to oversee the process.
He said proposals were received from various Indian institutions and the ministry has given approval to four of them.
ICMR Director General V.M. Katoch said the council has approved proposals from four institutes, including Delhi University, and Indian Institutes of Technology at Delhi and Mumbai.
He said China is also working on producing the natural source for the antivirals that can combat the H1N1 influenza virus.
"Our prices will of course be cheaper. We will be competing," he added.
Currently, a 10-tablet strip of the drug costs Rs 280 in the open market.
On Thursday, health authorities said six people died of swine flu in Hyderabad. They had died between September 13 to 15. But it was confirmed only on Thursday.
Two deaths were reported from Karnataka, taking the total number of deaths due to H1N1 virus to 73. While one patient died in Bangalore, the other death was registered in Bijapur.
A 35-year old-man admitted to a private hospital in Bangalore on September 9 died on September 15, and a 40-year-old woman admitted on September 11 to a private hospital in Bijapur succumbed the next day. However, the report confirming that they died of flu was received on September 16.
"Till date, samples from 31,517 people have been tested for influenza A (H1N1) in government laboratories and a few private labs across the country and 7,008 of them have been found poisitive," a statement issued here said.
Meanwhile, 208 fresh cases were reported in the country, taking the total number of affected people to 7,008.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 277,607 confirmed swine flu cases have been reported globally, while there have been 3,205 deaths in 190 countries, mostly from Mexico and the US.