The year 2021 experienced a startling surge in influenza cases in the heart of Southeast Asia, Thailand. This escalation was an unprecedented five times the average monthly numbers reported the previous year, sending shockwaves throughout the healthcare community. In response to this alarming health crisis, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of Thailand sprung into action, issuing a stern public notification about the smuggling of unauthorized antiviral drugs tagged as oseltamivir into the country.
Dr. Thira Woratanarat, a highly respected medical practitioner at the prestigious Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, took to social media to highlight this undisputable escalation. He shared data, analysing the spectrum of influenza cases from the onset of this year (January) up until September, and compared those numbers to the equivalent period last year. His revelations were shocking; less than 20,000 cases were recorded in January, but by September the caseload spiraled to a concerning 100,000. This transformation eclipsed the previous year where a total of 20,000 cases were reported at the end of September.
Digging deeper into his analysis, Dr. Thira spelled out the unsettling rate of growth compared to the same period last year for each month: January reported a 5.2-fold increase, February a staggering 7.6 times more, March and April 3.5 and 3.8 times respectively. The surge continued with May seeing a 5.3-fold jump, June and July witnessed 6.9 and 7.2 times increment respectively, August recorded 6.4 times growth and finally, September a 5.1 times increase.
In response to the growing health crisis, Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew made a public announcement regarding the spread of influenza variants A H1N1, A H3N2, and B viruses in Thailand. The Ministry of Public Health, as a preventative action, intends to expand the vaccination scope for children. The proposed vaccine immunization range will be expanded from children aged six months to two years, up to five years old, as documented by the Bangkok Post.
Meanwhile, another unsettling trend has been identified predominantly in the Northern region of Thailand. Unverified antiviral medication marked as oseltamivir is posing significant health risks, primarily due to public misconceptions of its scarcity leading to panic-induced purchasing. Responding to these concerns, Dr. Narong Aphikulvanich, the interim secretary-general of the FDA, assured that oseltamivir is not in shortage and the Government Pharmaceutical Organization is continually producing both 30g and 45g variants for nationwide dissemination. He condemned the smuggling of counterfeit oseltamivir into the country and insisted that FDA will take legal actions against this irresponsible and dangerous act.
Currently, legitimate oseltamivir medications in Thailand include Tamiflu 75g, GPO A-Flu in dosages of 30g, 35g, 75g. It’s a vigilantly controlled substance, available strictly via hospital channels. Guidance from Dr. Narong emphasized the importance that patients use it only when prescribed and strictly refrain from procuring it from unauthorised pharmacies or online platforms.
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