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2022-8-20 0:38:34

EU Commission gives up on flu stockpile
submited by kickingbird at Jun, 9, 2006 18:50 PM from Reuters

The European Union´s executive commission has given up on the idea of creating a strategic stockpile of antiviral drugs to deal with a flu pandemic after health ministers from the 25-nation bloc effectively killed the plan, a top official said on Wednesday.

Markos Kyprianou, commissioner for health and consumer protection, said three member states disagreed with the idea of the stockpile and most of the others refused to fund it.

"From our point of view, we see no reason to work on it," he told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Canada. A meeting of EU health ministers last week failed to take a decision on the matter.

The commission strongly backed the proposal for a stockpile of three million doses, which initially came from EU members France and Belgium. Fears of a possible flu pandemic were triggered by the spread of a deadly strain of bird flu.

"The reason that no decision was taken -- so in my mind, (they) just failed to adopt this measure -- is basically because about three countries had objections in principle. They didn´t agree with the idea as such," Kyprianou said.

"Even though there was a great majority in support of the concept ... most of them were not willing to finance it themselves from their national budgets," he said. He declined to name the three nations that opposed the idea in principle.

Kyprianou said the stockpile would be crucial in the early stages of a possible pandemic because it could protect member states with insufficient doses as well as eastern Mediterranean and North African countries that border the union.

The maximum cost of the three million doses would be about 45 million euros, "which is not a prohibitive amount," he said.

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed more than 125 people worldwide since 2003. Scientists fear it could evolve into a virus that could pass easily from person to person.

Kyprianou was upbeat about EU efforts to combat the H5N1 strain, saying the problem was under control.

He also played down the suggestion that the European Commission had been slow to spend the money it pledged to fight bird flu at a January conference in Beijing. The commission is the largest single donor, with $178 million, but none of the money has been disbursed yet.

Kyprianou said that after the money was pledged, the commission had to fight its way through EU bureaucracy to actually collect it -- a process which has now been completed.

"The money was pledged at the end of January and by now all the decisions (to hand over the money) have been taken. So I think in three months to take decisions ... I would say it was a record time," he said.

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