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EU countries disagree over stockpiling drugs for flu pandemic

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 13 July 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:116
  1. Rory Watson
  1. Brussels

    Members of the European Union cannot agree on whether or not to create a European stockpile of antiviral drugs for use in the event of an influenza pandemic, if the avian flu virus should mutate and become transmissible between humans.

    Robert Madelin, director general of the European Commission's department responsible for health and consumer affairs, believes that such a stockpile should be created.

    “If we had one we would be able to give additional antiviral stocks when the first outbreak occurs. It could help us gain time,” he said.

    However, some countries, such as the Netherlands and Sweden, are opposed to the idea in principle, while others would like to see a stockpile created but argue that the cost should be borne by the EU budget, not national exchequers.

    But despite the disagreement over stockpiling drugs, Zsuzsanna Jakab, director of the Stockholm based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, believes that the European Union is well prepared for any pandemic.

    She told a seminar on bird flu in Brussels last week that there was “a very clear level of preparedness in the European Union which is way ahead of other parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world.”

    Dr Jakab had analysed the preparations being made and had words of advice for policy makers. She stressed that preparedness for a pandemic was not simply a health issue confined to one government ministry. It cut across all areas of public policy, from transport to law and order, and required high level political leadership.

    “You have to make sure the plan is known not only to a small group of people in the ministry of health but to all parts of the country and is multisectoral,” she explained.

    The European centre is currently monitoring the spread of bird flu in Europe, advising national authorities on how to tackle the disease and prepare for a potential pandemic.

    This year the centre's experts are visiting France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, and Slovakia, and they aim to have assessed all 25 national EU plans by July 2007.

    The latest World Health Organization figures show that bird flu has now been found in animals in 53 countries and infected humans in 10. By 20 June 228 cases had occurred in humans, of whom 130 had died. The highest mortality was in Vietnam (42 deaths) and Indonesia (39). In the 52 countries of WHO's European region nine people have so far died from the disease: five in Azerbaijan and four in Turkey.

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