Onboard outbreaks leave swine flu medication in short supply

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Ship owners and managers are struggling to source the anti-viral drug Tamiflu for the escalating number of swine flu outbreaks onboard ships, according to UK ship supplier Hutton’s.

As swine flu proliferates across the globe, ship owners and managers are grappling to stock up on Tamiflu to protect their ships and crew from the potentially dangerous virus, yet where the drug is sourced, it is being sold at extortionately high prices due to soaring demand levels.

John MacDonald, General Manager of Hutton’s Medical, said: “There is a UK-wide problem with obtaining stocks of Tamiflu at present because of the quantity being stockpiled by the Government, and stocks in Europe are dwindling too. There are stocks of Tamiflu which date back to the bird flu outbreak two years ago but they are being sold at high prices and have sell-by dates which expire next year.”

As the ship supplier is inundated by more than double the usual number of requests for Tamiflu, owners are also being baulked by the great expense of the drug, in light of the greater pressure being placed on the availability of the medication.

Mr MacDonald added: “When you have several thousand tonnes of vessel carrying who knows what you don’t want to risk that coming to grief in the middle of the ocean because the crew is incapacitated. Although it is not mandatory, larger companies have already done their own risk analysis and decided they need a plan to deal with a flu pandemic.

“Now smaller companies are starting to follow suit and encountering this supply problem. Some of the highly priced specialised medical products manufactured by large pharmaceutical companies are difficult for shipping companies to get hold of,” he warned.

There is now concern sparking across the industry that owners and managers will forgo purchase of the medication in order to avoid the high cost of the meciation, leaving crew members vulnerable to the rapidly-spreading virus.