Tokyo: Japan said on 6 March it will increase its stockpile of Tamiflu to protect against bird flu, despite questions over the blockbuster drug’s side effects.
Japan, which is already the world’s biggest importer of Tamiflu, previously stockpiled enough of the drug to treat 25 million patients for five days.
The health ministry announced it will increase the stock to cover another three million patients to take account of people living near outbreaks.
“If there is an outbreak somewhere, we will administer Tamiflu to people who are in proximity to the patients in order to contain the disease,” a health ministry official said.
“We can never know when an outbreak may occur,” he added.
Japan will spend 6.8 billion yen ($58.7 million) to buy the new stock of Tamiflu, which is manufactured by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche.
The government will also buy 300 million yen worth of baby chickens to test a vaccine, the official said.
Japan buys more than 60% of the world’s Tamiflu, seen as the frontline medicine against a global bird flu pandemic.
But Tamiflu has come under investigation in Japan after dozens of people who took the drug killed themselves. In February, a 14-year-old boy died after leaping from the 11th floor of a building.
An investigation in 2006 by the US Food and Drug Administration into the deaths in Japan concluded there was no link between Tamiflu and the deaths. Roche also strongly denied a connection.
The virulent H5N1 virus has killed around 160 people across the world since late 2003 through contact with infected birds. Japan last week declared an end to its outbreaks of the virus.