As bird flu fear takes wing, Govt holds back Tamiflu

Govt is banning retail sale of Tamiflu, possibly the only effective drug to treat bird flu, reports Sanchita Sharma.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2006 10:20 IST

Even as the fear of avian influenzais gripping the entire nation, the Government has begun culling of birds to contain the spread of the virus.

Yet, two days after the outbreak of the disease in Maharashtra, the Government is not ready to take any drastic measures as regards the sale of drugs. It has decided to ban the retail sale of oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu), the medicine used to treat bird flu.

“We’ll not permit the indiscriminate sale of the drug, which is not safe for general use, more so for children,” says Health Secretary Prasanna Hota. “Oseltamivir will be sold only through the public health channel, through very strict guidelines.”

Oseltamivir is considered unsafe because it makes people drug-resistant very quickly and has side effects (nausea, vomiting).

However, medical experts have recommended administration of Tamiflu as a preventive measure to all the people who have come in contact with the poultry in the flu-affected areas, but said its cost was very high.

Dr YK Hamied, chairman, Cipla, whose cheaper version of oseltamivir was supposed to hit the market on Tuesday, is unfazed.

“It’s a very good move as it’ll prevent stockpiling and ensure that the drug reaches those who really need it,” he says. “At the same time, the Government should consider that a person infected with bird flu has to be given the drug within 48 hours. What will happen to all those who cannot reach a Government hospital in time for the medicine?”

Hamied’s suggestion: hospitals and doctors should be allowed to retail oseltamivir.

“We’ve been offering the drug for Rs 650 for a course (10 strips) to the Government and still do so, even though the retail price is Rs 1,000,” he says. Currently, the Government is buying the drug for Rs 745 from Hetero, which has the Roche sub-licence to market it in India.

Asked what he would do if Roche (holder of the global marketing rights for oseltamivir) were to prevent him from marketing the drug, Hamied says: “I’m doing this for my Government and my countrymen. It’s up to them to uphold my position.”

First Published: Feb 21, 2006 02:43 IST