In an effort to ensure affordable treatment for poor States in the event of a human bird flu pandemic, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has met with the head of the pharmaceutical Roche group, and has voiced the hope that donors would be generous with funding to buy the Tamiflu drug in bulk for needy countries.
Mr. Annan, who two months ago appointed a UN system coordinator for a possible pandemic amid concern that the H5N1 virus could mutate into a deadly strain that spreads easily from person to person, met with Roche Chairman and CEO Franz Humer yesterday and congratulated him on his firm’s responsiveness to the threat so far.
Mr. Annan “reiterated the importance of ensuring access of preferentially priced treatment for Avian Flu to the poorest and neediest countries,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said today.
The Secretary-General also repeated his standing position that “the best way to protect the intellectual property rights was to make sure that the poorest and neediest countries get the medicines they need at a preferential price,” Mr. Dujarric said, adding that the two men agreed to keep their channels of communications open.
At the end of September, Mr. Annan appointed David Nabarro, a senior public health expert in the UN World Health Organization (WHO), to ensure coordinated UN support for effective local, national, regional and global preparations for a potential pandemic, underlining even stronger involvement by the world body in the fight against the disease.
Ever since the first human case of H5N1, linked to widespread poultry outbreaks in Viet Nam and Thailand, was reported in January last year, UN health officials have warned that the virus could evolve into a human pandemic if it mutates into a form which could transmit easily between people. Cases so far have been traced to infection directly from diseased birds.
The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide. Overall, there have been 132 reported human H5N1 cases, 68 of them fatal, all in South-East and East Asia. Some 150 million domestic birds have died or been culled in an effort to curb its spread.