In view of the possibility of a human pandemic of avian influenza, a first-line strategy for many countries is stockpiling of antiviral neuraminidase inhibitors (oseltamivir [Tamiflu] and zanamivir [Relenza]), which can reduce mortality, morbidity and influenza transmission.
However, global supply of the antivirals is controlled by the European-based patent owners, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline. This prevents competition in the manufacturing and distribution of antivirals and has reduced global supply capacity and affordability.
The Australian Government has acknowledged that, in the event of a pandemic, its own stockpile of antivirals will be limited and reserved for those on a confidential rationing list. Pharmacies are running out of stocks, limiting opportunities for individuals to secure supplies privately.
Compulsory licensing provisions, permitted under domestic patent law, would allow Australian generic manufacturers to start producing antivirals locally or import them from generic producers at affordable prices.
Australia also has an opportunity and a responsibility to promote compulsory licensing and generic antiviral production in the Asian region, to ensure our neighbours can establish pandemic stockpiles in a timely and affordable manner.
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