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Reuters Examines WHO Efforts To Fight H1N1 In Developing Countries

Reuters examines the WHO’s battle against the H1N1 (swine flu) virus in “[d]eveloping countries, where medical care systems are weak and supplies of antivirals insufficient.” In addition to “supplying countries with diagnostic kits, medicines and masks and gloves to protect health care workers and minimize the further spread of the new virus,” the WHO is continuing to distribute doses of the antiviral Tamiflu, which has been “shown to be effective so far against H1N1,” according to Reuters.

“We need to worry about the development of (drug) resistance if treatment is not done correctly, if inferior doses are used or counterfeit drugs come on the market,” David Heymann, a former senior WHO official now chairing Britain’s Health Protection Agency, said. Additionally, “In Africa, poor communities are vulnerable due to malnutrition, often compounded by respiratory diseases including tuberculosis, according to Heymann, who worked for 13 years in Africa” for the CDC, Reuters writes. “This is something that has to be watched very closely… We don’t know whether this will be exacerbated by H1N1,” Heymann said.

H1N1 Vaccine Development Moving Ahead

According to Reuters, “[t]he WHO has urged drugmakers to complete production of seasonal flu vaccine for the northern hemisphere’s next winter over the next two weeks, and then switch to production of a pandemic vaccine” (Nebehay, Reuters, 6/12). Novartis AG on Friday announced it had developed an experimental H1N1 vaccine ahead of schedule and would begin clinical trials in July (Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report, 6/12).

The Financial Times reports that while Novartis is considering offering H1N1 vaccines at discounted prices to developing countries, the company will not offer the vaccines to developing countries for free. “If you want to make production sustainable, you have to create financial incentives,” Daniel Vasella, Novartis chief executive, told the Financial Times. Vasella’s “comments were a rebuff to Margaret Chan, WHO director-general …” who “has called on vaccine makers to show ‘solidarity’ in offering vaccines to the poor,” according to the Financial Times.

“The remarks highlight divisions in the industry. GSK has pledged 50 million doses of its flu vaccine to the poor, and some smaller producers in developing countries say they will earmark 10 percent of their production for free distribution,” the newspaper writes (Jack, Financial Times, 6/14).

First Death Outside The Americas

British authorities have confirmed the death of a Scottish patient infected with the H1N1 virus on Sunday, which marks the first death outside of the Americas, AFP/Google.com reports (Ritchie, AFP/Google.com).