UPDATE 1-Asia to get flu drug stockpile by April 2010

(For stories on the H1N1 flu outbreak see [ID:nWORLDFLU])

* Asia to get 500,000 course H1N1 antiviral stockpile

* Northern hemisphere hospitals to face “increasing pressure”

* First case of season detected in Vietnam in birds

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Asia will receive a stockpile of 500,000 courses of H1N1 flu drugs by April next year to supplement any shortfall in the region, an official with a Japanese donor agency said on Tuesday.

The $18 million stockpile is funded by the Japan Trust Fund and is a joint initiative by the country and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), an intercontinental dialogue and cooperation platform.

“The stockpile will be channelled to the Asian countries that need it most, as decided by the World Health Organisation,” Naoko Noda, adviser to the Japan International Cooperation System, told Reuters on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe Foundation pandemic preparedness seminar.

The stockpile will be held in Singapore and will include 400,400 courses of Tamiflu, made by Roche Holding AG ROG.VX, and 100,000 of GlaxoSmithKline's GSK.L Relenza antiviral drug.

It is being established as the winter flu season starts to take a grip in the northern hemisphere.

According to the WHO, the pandemic virus has now spread to 206 countries, with the latest reported laboratory-confirmed cases in Somalia, Nigeria and Burundi. There have been more than 6,250 deaths to date, mostly in the Americas, according to the WHO toll.

The WHO’s Western Pacific regional adviser, Dr Takeshi Kasai, said northern hemisphere countries such as South Korea and Japan have so far been able to cope.

“But we are anticipating that the northern hemisphere countries will be facing increasing pressure in the coming months on hospital facilities, particularly intensive care units,” Kasai told Reuters in an interview.

Many Asian countries, added Kasai, have put in place plans to prepare for a pandemic following the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

“H1N1 is now the real test to see how the plans the countries have put in place in the past in terms of increasing readiness will work,” said Kasai.

Kasai said Asia’s first outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza for this year’s cold season was detected two weeks ago in Vietnam, but the outbreak was limited to a group of birds.

Experts fear that the two types of viruses will combine to become a far more deadly strain among humans. (Reporting by Razak Ahmad; Editing by David Fox)