Bird flu fund to protect half a million Swedes

The Swedish government has agreed to a request from the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) for additional funds to help them meet the goals of their Asian bird flu readiness plan. This week the government pledged 129 million kronor, enough to to purchase antiviral medication for half a million people.

The welfare board wants to buy in the medication in time for next autumn’s flu wave. The new funds will be used to purchase antiviral medication that would be needed if a feared global pandemic of Asian bird flu, or Avian flu, were to break out.

The funds will allow the welfare board to purchase enough medication as a preventative measure for 325,000 people and as a cure for 220,000, although an effective vaccine or cure specifically for Asian bird flu has not yet been developed.

“Negotiations with suppliers are continuous, and we hope that we will have an agreement as soon as possible, in order to ensure that the we will get the medication for our readiness plan,” said the welfare board’s Jonas Holst.

“We want to be ready by the autumn with a new supply of medication, because then we will be close to a new influenza period.”

Due to the global fears for a bird flu pandemic there is currently a huge demand for Tamiflu, the medication that will give at least some protection.

In a strange twist, its supplier, Roche, had contacted the welfare board earlier this year because their own supplies were starting to run low. Swedish social services agreed to supply them from their stock, however, in the end Roche managed to provide its own supply.

The welfare board has been given special permission by minister of justice Thomas Bodström to circumvent the usual tendering laws and to go directly to Roche and ask them to make an offer.

They will also stockpile an older version of antiviral medicine called Amantadin, which is a preventory treatment and will be given to medical personnel and key people in society such as the police, politicians, and garbage collecters.

Critics say this medication is less effective and has more side effects. However, Amantadin is cheap and has a longer shelflife.

In February, when the welfare board first presented its plans to the Swedish government, its own health advisor Hans Wigzell caused a furore when he suggested that people should stockpile their own medication.

“There is nothing wrong with people wanting to protect their families with medication when a global influenza epidemic is at our front door,” he said at the time.

In the meatime, US health officials have announced the start of human tests of a vaccine against Asian bird flu. The vaccine, made by Sanofi Pasteur, will be tested on 450 healthy adults in Rochester, New York, Baltimore and Los Angeles, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.