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Swiss pay the most for bird flu drug

The price supervisor won't take action against the high price of Tamiflu Keystone

The federal price supervisor has confirmed that the price of a popular antiviral medication is markedly higher in Switzerland than in other European countries.

But Rudolf Strahm said he would not intervene because there was no need for individuals to stock up on the drug, Tamiflu.

Strahm said on Tuesday that the drug was more expensive because of a higher factory price but also because of the retail margin for pharmacists.

The price watchdog ordered a preliminary investigation into Tamiflu last month.

The Swiss-based Roche pharmaceutical group has a monopoly on production of the drug, which is believed to be efficient in combating a possible pandemic of the human strain of bird flu.

Strahm said most pharmacies in Switzerland sold Tamiflu for the recommended price of SFr86.50 ($65.90) per package. But the price could drop to SFr72 if pharmacists reduced their profit margins, he added.

No intervention

The price watchdog said there was no point in intervening at this stage because he did not want to indirectly encourage people to hoard the drug.

Strahm said the health authorities, doctors and pharmacists all recommended against stocking up on Tamiflu.

However, the situation would be reviewed in the case of a pandemic.

Special conditions already apply for Swiss hospitals. Strahm said the Roche pharmaceutical group agreed to accept lower prices and special terms for cash payments.

Roche has limited the supply of the antiviral drug to consumers in order to prevent panic buys.

Limited sales

The Swiss government has built up a stock of the drug that can treat up to two million citizens – or 25 per cent of the population – in line with World Health Organization recommendations.

Meanwhile, Roche says it has stopped selling Tamiflu in China and is turning over supplies to the authorities.

They are preparing to treat possible human cases of bird flu in China. Elsewhere in Asia at least 62 people have been killed by the virulent H5N1 strain.

swissinfo with agencies

Price of Tamiflu by comparison:

Switzerland: SFr86.50 ($65.90).
Germany: SFr53, but currently sold out.
France: SFr39.
Italy: Not on sale.

The H5N1 strain first emerged in Hong Kong in 1997, when it caused the death or destruction of 1.5 million birds.

It re-emerged in 2004 in South Korea and has spread to several Asian countries including China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Indonesia.

It has also appeared in Russia and Kazakhstan, and recently in Turkey, Romania, Croatia and Britain.

So far H5N1 has killed more than 60 people.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR