Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) There is no credible evidence that Tamiflu works against the H5N1virus, but donors' conference raises US$ 1.9 billion to fight the outbreak.
In an article published in The Lancet medical journal today, researchers from the Cochrane Vaccines Field in Rome and the University of Queensland in Australia warn against over-reliance on Tamiflu. Focus should be on implementing quarantine measures and improving personal hygiene.
The researchers found that older antiviral drugs such as amantadine and rimantadine should not be used because they are ineffective and can cause adverse side effects such as hallucinations.
Yet, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is recommending governments stockpile Tamiflu even though the usefulness of the expensive measure is increasingly coming under criticism.
For Malik Peiris, professor of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, "[i]t is important that [. . .] people should not be panicking and taking these pills left right and centre."
"Tamiflu and Relenza," he said, "do shorten the course of the illness by one and half days or so. [But] it is not something dramatically different".
Meanwhile, the conference on the avian flu in Beijing ended with some 120 countries and organisations pledging US$ 1.9 billion to a global fund to fight the disease. The US will contribute US$ 334 million, the European Union, 250 million, and Japan, another 155 million. The money will go to prevention and to improve health services for people and animals. For poor countries, the aid is essential. Not only do they lack the resources to cope with the emergency but they are also the hardest hit.
About US$ 1 billion will go to poor countries in South-East Asia, where the virus has become endemic, and in other parts of the world such as Africa. The other 900 million will be available as loans for short-term and long-term programmes.
China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Turkey will benefit the most. Indonesia alone has asked for half a billion dollars to cull poultry at risk and compensate farmers.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao urged rich countries to open their wallets to beat the disease. China itself will spend US$ 10 million, the highest contribution for a developing country.
Countries participating in the conference also endorsed a Beijing Declaration, agreeing to "take further co-ordinated actions to strengthen disease surveillance and diagnostics, develop much-needed capacity in human and veterinary healthy systems, increase public awareness and address social and economic impacts".
The UN coordinator on avian and human influenza David Nabarro said resources were needed immediately because animal health services around the world are not strong enough to monitor bird flu outbreaks effectively and cull poultry flocks.
Margaret Chan, top WHO pandemic expert, told the conference that the cost of acting now was "peanuts" compared to the potential losses in the event of a pandemic.
According to the World Bank (WB), the economic cost to the world's economy of any pandemic could reach as much as US$ 800 billion and cause millions of dead.
"Past outbreaks have already cost more than $10 billion in economic losses," said WB Chairman Paul Wolfowitz.
China. A 35-year-old womanwho raised poultry in the village of Zhoujia, in the south-western province of Sichuanprobably died of the disease which she had contracted on January 3. The death, if confirmed, would take China's toll to six.
Iraq. Tests into the death of a 14-year-old girl who died on January 17 in Sulaimaniya are pending. She fell ill in Raniya, an area that receives migratory birds from neighbouring Turkey.
Syria. Birds in towns near the north-eastern border with Turkey have been culled and destroyed.
Turkey. The country's 21st case of bird flu in humans has been confirmed; it involves a four-year-old boy from the Dogubayazit district in the eastern province of Agri. Tests are underway on an 11-year-old girl from Mus province who died in Erzurum. (PB)