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Government finalises bird flu preparations

Switzerland has built up a stock of two million doses of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu

(Keystone)

The Federal Health Office has updated its national plan to deal with a potential bird flu pandemic.

Part of the strategy proposed in the 250-page plan includes the supply and distribution of anti-viral drugs and vaccines for treating up to one quarter of the Swiss population who might fall sick.

The new bird flu plan, which is described as a "flexible working tool" for authorities, business and the general public, proposes detailed guidelines, organisational plans and responses in the event of a bird flu pandemic.

Switzerland has built up a stock of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu to treat more than two million people and protect health workers.

If an outbreak looks inevitable, ten per cent of this overall stock will be distributed to the cantons to prevent shortages if the market runs out, the health office said on Monday.

The government announced at the end of June that it had bought eight million doses of a new pre-pandemic vaccine to protect the population against bird flu.

"The aim is to have sufficient vaccines by the beginning of 2007 that are stocked centrally. Distribution will then be coordinated with the appropriate actors," said Jean-Louis Zurcher, health office spokesman.

However, the distribution of protection face masks has not yet been resolved, explained Zurcher, as world recommendations have not been decided upon.

WHO-approved

The Swiss plan is based on the updated preparations of the World Health Organization (WHO). It was drawn up by the Federal Health Office in collaboration with cantonal authorities, a flu working group and numerous experts.

Switzerland had established an initial plan in 2000, but it had to be completely revised in light of the bird flu pandemic. Under the current plan, one quarter of the Swiss population will be covered according to WHO recommendations.

The document allows national partners to establish their own preparations, in particular at cantonal level, and serves as a communication tool for informing the WHO, the European Union and neighbouring countries of Switzerland's plans.

The government said that, without public health measures, an outbreak of human bird flu of a similar severity to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic would result in around 10,000 deaths and two million people becoming infected.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

In Switzerland, public health affairs are managed at cantonal level. The country therefore has 26 different health systems – one for each canton.

In accordance with the constitution, the government can also implement health measures at national level.

In particular it can become actively involved in combating extremely dangerous transmissible diseases.

It can also pass laws concerning foodstuffs, medicines, drugs or chemical substances that endanger the public's health.

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Key facts

According to the latest WHO update, there have been 233 cases of human bird flu including 135 deaths.
No cases of human bird flu have been reported in Switzerland.
According to the latest government plan, 1.85 million people could become infected with bird flu if the virus is able to pass from human to human.
In the event, 46,000 people would be admitted to hospital and around 7,400 people would die.
According to the government, such a pandemic would cost an estimated SFr2.3 billion.

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