May 23, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The United States is sending a load of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to an undisclosed site in Asia for use in fighting a possible avian influenza pandemic, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced yesterday.
"I am pleased to announce the United States government has just deployed treatment courses of Tamiflu to a secure location in Asia. The shipment is currently in transit and will arrive later this week," Leavitt said in remarks prepared for delivery at the annual meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva.
He said President George W. Bush is committed to "forward-positioning a portion of U.S. antiviral stocks for use in a human pandemic."
Oseltamivir is considered the drug most likely to be helpful if the H5N1 avian flu virus evolves into a pandemic strain. Many countries, including the United States, have been stockpiling it.
In a Reuters news report yesterday, Leavitt was quoted as telling reporters in Geneva that the oseltamivir supply sent to Asia "would belong to the United States and we would control its deployment." He declined to say how many treatment courses had been sent.
The supply would be used in efforts to contain an emerging pandemic, but the government could recall the drug for domestic use if it became clear that containment overseas was not possible, according to Reuters.
The announcement came as health officials continued to investigate whether a cluster of avian flu cases in an Indonesian family involved person-to-person transmission. The WHO reported today that all confirmed case-patients in the cluster had close and prolonged contact with other family members who were ill and that no alternative source of infection has yet been found.
The US government has a goal of stockpiling enough Tamiflu to treat 25% of the US population. Leavitt said the nation will have 26 million treatment courses by December and 75 million by the end of next year, Reuters reported.
Text of Leavitt's prepared speech
May 23 WHO update on Indonesian situation