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Science & Health
Roche agrees to donate Tamiflu for a second stockpile

          SWISS drug maker Roche Holding AG is donating enough Tamiflu for another 2.0 million people to the World Health Organization (WHO), a WHO official said Tuesday.
"Roche has agreed to donate Tamiflu for a second stockpile," Margaret Chan, assistant director-general for communicable diseases at WHO, said at the sidelines of an international donors' conference for bird flu in Beijing.
She said Roche will donate enough for 2.0 million people but did not give any more details. One course of the antiviral drug has 10 pills.
Roche has already donated enough of the drug to the WHO to treat 3.0 million people.
Company officials have said that Roche produced 55 million treatments last year and is expected to make 150 million treatments this year, and double that amount by 2007.
Meanwhile, Disease experts urged rich countries at the donors conference in Beijing last Tuesday to come up with the US$1.5 billion (euro1.4 billion) that the World Bank says is needed to tackle bird flu and prepare for a potential pandemic in humans.
"We're talking about a tremendous amount of money here for an issue that is clearly of global importance. The stakes are very high," James LeDuc, a viral illness expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the news agency at the opening of a two-day conference in Beijing.
"Whether it's SARS, or monkey pox, or avian influenza, or whatever the next outbreak, the capacity that we're building is going to be very important for global health," he said.
The two-day international donors' conference in Beijing has been focused on raising money to fight bird flu, which has killed at least 79 people in Asia and Turkey since 2003.
A World bank official earlier told the news agency that donors were expected to pledge some US$1.0 billion (euro822 million).
"We're anticipating a very generous European Union (EU) response, we have a very strong commitment from the U.S. (and) we expect the Japanese to come with a strong commitment," Jim Adams, head of the World Bank's Avian Flu Task Force, said.
Most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds, but experts fear the H5N1 bird flu virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between people, possibly sparking a pandemic.
The World Bank has said that up to US$1.5 billion (euro1.4 billion) is needed over the next three years to fight bird flu and prepare for a pandemic. More than US$500 million would be devoted to building country rapid response plans in both the animal and human health sectors, the World Bank said.
About 45 per cent of the funding would be spent in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Laos -- countries where the H5N1 virus is already endemic, it said.
The funding conference has followed a global bird flu coordination meeting held two months ago in Geneva, which brought together more than 600 participants from 100 countries.
Adams said between 500-600 people attended the Beijing meeting, co-sponsored by the World Bank, European Commission and the Chinese government.
Based on the damage that severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, caused to Asia's economy after it emerged in southern China in 2002, the World Bank says a flu pandemic in humans could result in US$800 billion (euro640 billion) in global losses in a year.
The two-day international donors' meeting has been held in Beijing aiming to raise 1.5 billion dollars to help prevent the potential global catastrophe of a bird flu pandemic.
Just hours after a fourth human fatality from the virus was confirmed in Turkey, officials from half the world's nations gathered in the capital city of China to come up with the money needed to finance a plan aimed at preventing the virus from becoming a pandemic.
The International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Influenza was purported to assessing the financing needs at the country, regional and global levels.
It also invited the international community to pledge financial support and discuss how to set up mechanisms to coordinate the fight against bird flu.
At the first bird flu donors' conference in Geneva in November last year, a three-year bird flu action plan was finalised.
Juergen Voegele, a member of the World Bank's avian influenza task force, said in the lead-up to the latest gathering in Beijing that the spread of the virus westwards from Asia was a wake-up call for the world.
"The world is beginning to see this is not going to go away easily," Voegele said.
"People were under the impression that the human cases of avian influenza were confined to Asia. Now people are beginning to wake up.
"Every country needs to do something now."
With officials from 90 countries and 25 organisations represented in Beijing, Voegele said he was optimistic about a significant amount of money coming as donation.


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