The antiviral drugs found to be effective against the swine flu strain that has infected people in Mexico and around the world are not readily available in Uganda.
The antiviral drugs Tamiflu, made by Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding, and Relenza, made by GlaxoSmithKline, could not be found in Kampalaâ€™s main pharmacies.
The New Vision visited Gilead Pharmacy and PCC Pharma Care in Kabalagala, as well as KK Pharmacy and Medi-Max in Bugolobi. In two places, the pharmacists said they would need to order the drugs from Nairobi, which would take a few days.
Health ministry officials yesterday said there were only about 500 doses of Tamiflu at the National Medical Stores in Entebbe.
â€œThey were imported two years ago to prepare for a possible outbreak of bird flu but they were not used,â€ said Dr. Alex Opio, the assistant commissioner for national disease control. â€œSince we have not yet registered any cases of swine flu in Uganda, we are not distributing them as of now.â€
International health experts have warned that developing countries may struggle to gain access to the drugs needed to combat a fast-spreading outbreak of swine flu.
They worry that there will not be enough doses to treat the whole world in case of a pandemic, and production is limited.
â€œMany countries have stockpiled antivirals, although how to deliver them within a maximum of 48 hours remains a huge challenge,â€ the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are considering taking joint measures to stop swine flu from entering the region.
â€œWe believe that when we work as a team, we shall be able to come up with better measures,â€ said Dr. Nicholas Kauta, the commissioner for livestock health and entomology.
Governments around the world are rushing to stop the spread of swine flu, which has already killed 149 people in Mexico. There are 52 cases in the US and new infections were confirmed yesterday in Israel and New Zealand. Canada, Spain and Britain also have confirmed cases and many other countries have suspected infections.
Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised its alert level from 3 to 4, it is not recommending travel restrictions or border closures.
Swine flu can be spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing or through contact with infected pigs, not by eating pork. The symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache and lack of appetite.
Keiji Fukuda of the WHO said given the widespread nature of the virus, all corners of the world are at potential risk.
â€œIn this age of global travel, where people move around in airplanes so quickly, there is no region to which this virus could not spread,â€ Fukuda said.
The last flu pandemic was in 1968, when â€œHong Kongâ€ flu killed about one million people around the world.
Uganda lacks swine flu drugs