Vietnam bans sale of anti-bird flu drug Tamiflu

Vietnam has banned pharmacies from selling the anti-bird flu drug Tamiflu, saying improper use could cause the virus to develop resistance to the medicine, officials said Wednesday. Residents afraid of contracting bird flu have rushed in recent weeks to buy the drug, which ranges from 450,000 dong (US$28) to 1.2 million dong (US$76) for one course of 10 capsules. All medicines are sold over-the-counter in Vietnam.

But the Pharmaceutical Administration Department, under the Ministry of Health, has instructed provincial health departments and hospitals not to sell Tamiflu, said department director Cao Minh Quang. "Stockpiling and using the drug as a precautionary measure would be very dangerous, causing possible drug resistance," he said. Vietnam has already stockpiled 700,000 Tamiflu capsules, including 600,000 tablets donated by Taiwan, distributing a portion nationwide to hospitals designated to treat bird flu patients, he said. The goal is to acquire some 25 million Tamiflu tablets, he added.

"The importation of the drug is very limited, we can't buy it," Quang said. "The No. 1 priority is for the national stockpile and for hospitals treating people infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus and suspected cases."

Last month, Vietnam reached an agreement in principle with Tamiflu's manufacturer, Swiss-based Roche Holding AG, which would allow the communist country to make the drug with ingredients provided by Roche. The Ministry of Health is expected to recommend 10 Vietnamese pharmaceutical companies to Roche during a meeting this week, Quang said.

Bird flu has killed or forced the slaughter of more than 100 million birds in Asia since the virus began ravaging farms in late 2003. It has also jumped to humans, killing at least 69 people in Asia, the majority of them in Vietnam.

Experts fear the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form easily passed among people, potentially sparking a global pandemic. So far, most cases have been traced to contact with infected birds, reports the AP. I.L.

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