UAE pharmacists ignore rules in Tamiflu "panic"

DUBAI (Reuters) - Pharmacists in the United Arab Emirates have ignored regulations on the sale of Tamiflu to satisfy “panic” demand for the drug following a flu outbreak.

A box of Tamiflu rests beside prescriptions waiting to be filled at Doughery's Pharmacy in Dallas, Texas May 1, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

“We ran out of stock about a week ago. When the news came out about the cases in Mexico we had people flooding into the pharmacy asking for Tamiflu,” one pharmacist said.

Tamiflu is one of the medicines recognized by the World Health Organization as effective in treating the H1N1 flu that has spread across the world after an outbreak in Mexico.

Ali Al-Marzouki, director of public health affairs in the UAE emirate of Dubai, said pharmacies had been reminded that Tamiflu should be sold only on prescription.

“We have to protect the stocks that we have now and we cannot allow people’s panic to eat through our supplies,” he said.

“There is no reason for people to panic, the UAE is safe.”

Pharmacies are selling a box of Tamiflu with 10 tablets meant to last five days for around 180 dirhams ($49). New stocks of Tamiflu and face masks are expected in a week, the pharmacist said.

Monday, the World Heath Organization (WHO) said its laboratories have identified a total of 985 H1N1 flu infections in 20 countries, including 590 people infected in Mexico and 226 people in the United States.

Marzouki said Dubai alone has 1 million Tamiflu capsules, imported four years ago during the avian flu outbreak.

The UAE, most of whose population of 4.5 million are foreigners, is a commerce and tourism hub which has a large number of travelers transiting through its airports.

“The reason I want to buy Tamiflu is because I’ll be traveling to New York in two days and I’m worried about the situation there,” said a French businessman based in Dubai.

Editing by Andrew Hammond and Robert Woodward