United States Sends Flu Medicine to Asia

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The United States is sending a shipment of the anti-viral medication Tamiflu® to Asia, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt announced May 22.

He made the announcement during a session with reporters on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

“I’m pleased to announce that the United States government has just deployed treatment courses of Tamiflu to a secure location in Asia,” Leavitt said.

He declined to reveal the size of the shipment or its precise destination, adding that it will be in place by the end of the week. The medicine is being pre-positioned in case of a human outbreak of influenza that could escalate into a pandemic.

Rapid diagnosis of a lethal strain and a swift response to contain and control its spread are key steps in an international strategy to prevent a dangerous influenza strain from developing into a pandemic.

Concerns that a deadly form of flu could sweep the world have risen over the last two years as a new, highly pathogenic form of avian influenza has shown its ability to infect and kill humans.

The H5N1 flu strain so far does not appear to be contagious among humans, but health authorities warn that it could become so at any time.

Refining international pandemic response plans and encouraging all nations to develop preparedness plans will be important matters on the agenda at the World Health Assembly, Leavitt said.

He is also anxious to work with other donor nations on a plan to coordinate efforts to assist lesser-developed nations in influenza detection and response. At an international conference in Beijing in January, donor nations pledged $1.9 billion to help countries most susceptible to widespread outbreak. (See related article.)

H5N1 already is considered a pandemic disease among birds because this deadly viral strain has caused the death or destruction of more than 200 million birds so far.

Leavitt said he wants to make sure that donors coordinate their efforts so their contributions are spent most effectively.

The United States has pledged $334 million to international pandemic preparedness, and is spending more domestically on research, Leavitt said.

“We’ve been making significant investments in vaccines, significant investments in anti-virals [medications] and research,” Leavitt said. “The research is likely to benefit not only citizens of the United States, but citizens of the world.”


Leavitt announced earlier in May that the United States will spend $1 billion to help pharmaceutical companies speed development of new vaccine manufacturing technologies. (See related article.) The United States also has contributed to successful efforts to improve diagnostic methods so that H5N1 infection can be identified positively within a matter of hours, as contrasted to the days-long testing procedure previously used.

Intensive research also is under way to identify different actions that local officials can take to contain an outbreak of disease if it occurs.

Called “mitigation strategies,” these actions include closing schools, limiting or closing public facilities such as libraries, concert halls and theaters to reduce the chances of disease transmission. Leavitt said the United States will share the results of these findings with communities worldwide. “If we’re to protect our nation, we need to protect the people of the world and work together to protect the people of the world,” Leavitt said.

The U.S. health secretary said pandemic preparedness must be guided by four principles: transparency, rapid reporting, sharing of data and scientific cooperation.

Leavitt also expressed regret at the sudden death of WHO Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-wook. Lee died early May 22 after emergency surgery two days before to relieve a blood clot on the brain. (See related article.)

For ongoing coverage of bird flu issues, see Bird Flu (Avian Influenza).