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Indonesia plans massive increase in Tamiflu

Written by: Staff
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JAKARTA, Mar 5 (Reuters) Indonesia, which has suffered more deaths from bird flu this year than any other country, plans a massive increase in its supply of anti-flu Tamiflu tablets, the Jakarta Post newspaper reported today.

If taken within two days of contracting the virus, Tamiflu can work against the often deadly H5N1 flu, which international tests show has killed nine people in Indonesia so far in 2006.

The government plans to distribute 12 million Tamiflu tablets to affected areas of the sprawling archipelago, although currently it has just 16,000 in stock, the Jakarta Post said.

''I expect we will have up to 5 million tablets by April,'' Health Minister Fadillah Supari was quoted as saying yesterday.

She said pills would be handed out to health institutions in provinces with recorded outbreaks.

Another minister has said the pills would have to be imported since local companies have yet to start making the drug.

A senior health official yesterday said a local test had shown a three-year-old boy from Central Java province died of bird flu last week.

If confirmed by a UN-recognised laboratory, the boy would be Indonesia's 21st death from the H5N1 virus, now endemic in poultry in the world's fourth most populous nation.

The boy had been in contact with fowl, according to initial information. Contact with infected birds is the most common means of transmission of the H5N1 virus to humans.

Bird flu has killed at least 94 people in East Asia and the West Asia since late 2003. Scientists fear the virus could mutate and spread easily from person to person, triggering a pandemic that could kill millions and cripple economies.

Stamping out the virus is a huge, if not impossible, task in this vast country of some 17,000 islands and 220 million people.

The government has resisted the mass culling of fowl seen in some other nations, citing the expense and the impracticality in a nation where the keeping of a few chickens or ducks in backyards of homes is common in cities and on farms.

Agencies have concentrated instead on selective culling, and on public education and hygiene measures aimed at prevention.

REUTERS PG PC0916

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