Indonesia to seek permission to produce Tamiflu

Indonesia will seek permission to produce Tamiflu to fight bird flu in humans, the president said Monday, warning the country's current stock of the antiviral drug would be insufficient in the event of a pandemic.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he would ask the World Health Organization to lobby Roche Holding AG, the Swiss-based manufacturer of the drug, to give Indonesia a license.

The country needs 20 million tablets of Tamiflu, he said, noting that the current inventory of 75,000 doses "isn't sufficient."

Outbreaks of H5N1 have left poultry flocks devastated across Asia since 2003 and jumped to humans, killing at least 64.

Yudhoyono put Indonesia's toll at seven Monday, though the WHO, which relies on test results sent to a Hong Kong laboratory, has only confirmed five deaths in the sprawling country. Samples from two women who tested positive for the disease at a local lab have also been sent to Hong Kong.

Most people contract the deadly H5N1 virus from sick birds, but experts fear it will mutate to a form that is easily transmitted between humans, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions worldwide.

Experts are pinning their hopes on Tamiflu to soften the impact if that happens.

The Roche-patented drug, which is in great demand worldwide, could be used to treat the sick and those who have come into close contact with them while scientists rush to make a vaccine, they say.

Indonesia, accused of moving too slowly to stamp out the disease when it first appeared in poultry two years ago, has so far resisted calls to carry out the mass slaughter of chickens in bird flu-infected areas.

International experts say culling is the best way to contain the spread of the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus.

"There is a problem with mass culling ... that is money," said Yudhoyono, adding that Indonesia hoped to secure funding from the World Bank to help compensate farmers so it can carry out the practice.

"At the moment we are counting how much money we need," he said. Yudhoyono's remarks come ahead of a visit later Monday by a top EU health official to discuss ways to strengthen Indonesia's bird flu surveillance and control capabilities, reports the AP. I.L.

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