Philippines seeks extra $390 mln for anti-flu drive

MANILA, July 6 (Reuters) - Philippine health officials asked the lower house of Congress for an extra $393 million this year to stockpile on antiviral drug and possible flu vaccines as the new influenza A(H1N1) virus continues to spread rapidly.

The Philippines has one of the highest number of cases of the new flu virus in Southeast Asia with nearly 2,000 victims and one death since the first case was reported on May 21.

“We haven’t really seen enough of this virus and see how it evolves,” Francisco Duque, health secretary, told lawmakers at a congressional hearing on Monday.

Duque said his department would need about 19 billion pesos to purchase an additional 225,000 Tamiflu capsules and 450,000 flu shots that might be made available later this year.

The Philippines has a stockpile of 1.18 million Tamiflu tablets but might run out of supplies as an average of 100 people are getting infected by the new flu virus every day, he said.

But, some lawmakers said they were surprised by the figures because the requested amount was about 80 percent of the health department’s entire budget for 2009.

“It’s an overkill,” Congressman Eduardo Zialcita, adding 19 billion pesos was too much for one disease. He said dengue was killing more people in the country than the new flu virus.

About 80 percent of people infected by the deadly strain of swine flu virus have recovered, he added, citing a report from the health department. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)