Swiss drugmaker Roche has agreed to donate a further 2 million treatment courses, or 20 million doses, of its antiviral Tamiflu (oseltamivir) to the World Health Organization, in order to help build regional stockpiles to help developing countries fight a potential pandemic of H5N1, more commonly known as bird flu.

“By establishing regional stockpiles of antivirals, developing countries most likely to be affected by avian influenza in humans will be better prepared to rapidly manage outbreaks in the interest of global public health,” explained Lee Jong-Wook, Director-General of WHO. But “it is important to emphasize that this and the previous donation(s) do not replace the need for countries to consider the establishment of national antiviral stockpiles as one of a number of measures of national pandemic preparedness consistent with the national priorities of each country,” he added.

The move comes as a fourth death from bird flu is diagnosed in Turkey, fanning fears that a pandemic outbreak could be just around the corner if the current circulating strain mutates to become transmissible between humans. The WHO considers Tamiflu our best weapon at present, as it is active against all clinically-relevant flu viruses - including H5N1 - and data indicate that it could fight any mutating strain of the virus.

With a previous hand outs in 2004 and last year, this latest donation means that a total of 5.125 million treatment courses are now available to the WHO to help people affected by a potential pandemic.