Antiviral sales boosted as UAE prepares for influenza A (H1N1)
SummaryThe recent outbreak of influenza A (H1N1) infection, previously referred to as swine flu, has thrown the spotlight on governments around the world and their ability to manage a pandemic. In the UAE, customers are currently finding it difficult to source antivirals but, with Dubai seen as a hub for international travel, the government has stockpiles ready for distribution should an outbreak occur.
To date, there have been 1,124 cases of the infection in 21 countries. Unlike both SARS and bird flu, sustained human-to-human transmission of the disease has occurred. However, the strain appears to be more in line with seasonal flu, having a significantly lower mortality rate than both SARS and bird flu. Transmission of the virus between human beings occurs when an infected individual coughs and sneezes, dispersing infected droplets into the air. Exposure to these droplets by uninfected individuals can lead to infection.
With seasonal flu, vaccines are widely administered to protect high-risk individuals - the immuno-compromised, the young, the old, and people with respiratory conditions - from influenza. However, since this latest strain of the H1N1 virus is new and heavily mutated from typical human strains, there are no vaccines available to combat it. The World Health Organization believes that the development of a suitable vaccine will take between five to six months, making the use of antiviral drugs the most effective alternative recommendation. Tamiflu (oseltamivir - marketed by Roche) and Relenza (zanamivir - marketed by GlaxoSmithKline) are the two influenza antivirals recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Despite being free from influenza A (H1N1) as of May 6, 2009, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has activated its pandemic preparedness plan. Datamonitor primary research among pharmacists in the UAE showed that there had been an increase in sales of Tamiflu, Relenza and surgical masks. Pharmacists interviewed claimed that customers were seeking Tamiflu over Relenza due to media reports about the effectiveness of Tamiflu on patients in Mexico, where the virus originated.
Datamonitor research shows that global sales of Tamiflu had plummeted 68% in 2008 compared to 2007 reflecting the waning attention paid to pandemic preparation by governments worldwide, and the emerging competition from Relenza and pandemic influenza vaccines.
Although Tamiflu and Relenza are not readily available in pharmacies around the UAE, manufacturers and distributors claim that they will supply the antivirals when necessary. According to the Minister of Health, Humaid Mohammed Obaid Al Quttami, the UAE has stockpiled five million Tamiflu capsules and under an agreement with Roche, UAE-based Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries says that it has the ability to manufacture Tamiflu, if called upon to do so by the authorities.
Datamonitor believes that it is critical for the government to ensure that sufficient stockpiles of Tamiflu and Relenza are maintained for emergencies, especially since Dubai is regarded as a hub for international travel and over 80% of the residents of the UAE are foreign, leaving the country more susceptible to outbreaks, which observe no borders.
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