Team Heading to India to Examine Flu Drugs

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A Health Ministry delegation will head to India on Sunday to examine the quality of generic alternatives to Tamiflu, an antiviral drug being stockpiled around the world to treat swine flu.

If the conditions are suitable, Israel could end up spending tens of millions of shekels on the generics - at 50 percent to 75 percent less than the cost of Tamiflu.

But though the ministry is considering making a deal with Indian drugmakers, it cannot legally go through with the deal at the moment.

An Israeli court has issued an injunction preventing such purchases in response to a 2008 suit brought by the maker of Tamiflu, Switzerland's Roche, which wants to stop tender proceedings for generic alternatives.

Roche said yesterday that decision makers should look at Tamiflu's quality and availability rather than its price.

The government decided yesterday to buy enough drugs to combat the disease - both Tamiflu, taken in pill form, and Relenza, an inhalant - to supply 30 percent of the population, which goes beyond the World Health Organization recommendation that governments should have enough medication to treat about a quarter of their population.

Israel already has 11.5 million units of Tamiflu, enough to treat about 17 percent of the population. If the delegation to India finds that the Tamiflu alternatives are being manufactured at high quality and will be ready soon - and if given the legal okay - Israel could end up purchasing 5 million to 10 million units.

Police on alert

The Israel Police will work to keep the roads open if there is a wide-scale swine flu outbreak in the country, to enable sick people to get to the hospital in emergency situations, the police decided yesterday.

The decision was made during the police's first situation assessment to discuss its role in an outbreak.

The police also said they would be responsible for providing medical treatment, in coordination with the Health Ministry, for any detainees who might be diagnosed with swine flu.

In addition, police cars are expected to escort trucks carrying anti-flu drugs from ministry warehouses to medication distribution areas.

Police districts were ordered to prepare plans to split the areas under their jurisdiction into smaller regions that could be isolated during an outbreak and to map out ways for medical personnel to reach those areas.

Police are also preparing for the possibility of riots at potential drug-distribution areas.

The police also decided that any police officers who get swine flu should be taken off duty until they recover so they don't infect colleagues.

Meanwhile, some 1,000 callers contacted the Health Ministry's swine flu hotline yesterday, which was staffed by ministry officials responding to questions on how to treat the disease, what to do if someone is suspected of having been infected and whether to travel abroad.

Some of the calls were from other ministry officials and doctors, for whom a separate information center has since been set up.

A woman who returned from Mexico on April 17 was one of the callers. She asked about flu-like symptoms she said she had developed, but added that she had already recovered and wanted to know if there was anything she should do.

The incident is being studied and added to a registry of people who have been in Mexico in recent weeks and have recovered from any symptoms.

U.S. authorities also contacted the Health Ministry yesterday to learn more details about the two Israelis confirmed to have been infected with swine flu after visits to Mexico.

They wanted to know where in Mexico the two had been staying, in an effort to map the spread of the disease.

The hotline will also be operating today, between 7 A.M. and 2 P.M., and Sunday between 7 A.M. and 7 P.M. The hotline number is 03-695-1541 or *3090 from a Bezeq phone line.