Israeli Team Heads to India to Examine Swine Flu Drugs

Ministry delegation to travel to India, explore generic alternatives to antiviral drug Tamiflu.

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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.

Three Israelis have tested positive for the virus, and another 29 are suspected of being infected.

While the ministry is considering making a deal with Indian drug-makers, 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 Friday that decision makers should look at Tamiflu's quality and availability rather than its price.

The government decided 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.

Meanwhile, representatives of Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Egypt met on Friday in Jerusalem to coordinate efforts to combat swine flu in the region.

According to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry, the four-and-a-half hour meeting took place at the offices of the World Health Organization in Jerusalem.

The officials were updated on the latest developments related to swine flu in their respective countries, including the steps taken by the authorities to identify swine flu patients.

Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinians said that thus far no instances of swine flu have been reported among their citizenry. All sides pledged to maintain contact and continue to exchange information so as to facilitate the containment of swine flu in the region.

In light of the global swine flu epidemic, the Israel Police had announced that it will work to keep roads open to enable sick people to get to the hospital if there is a wide-scale outbreak in this country.

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

The Health Ministry has already raised the alert level to five, which is the second-highest on the scale. It issued a new set of recommendations to the public in an effort to contain swine flu and prevent its spread in Israel.

Authorities on Thursday issued new recommendations to the public in a bid to contain the virus.