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Indonesian Bird Flu Cases Show Virus-Control Weakness
posted by admin on 13/04/06

April 12 (Bloomberg) -- Human bird flu cases in Indonesia, averaging one a week since September, indicate measures to control the virus haven't stopped it spreading among poultry, a United Nations envoy said. 

``I remain very concerned about the continued reports of human cases and fatalities because this means that bird flu in rural and urban areas is very pronounced,'' David Nabarro, the UN's senior coordinator for bird flu and pandemic influenza, said yesterday in an interview in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta. 

Indonesia, the world's fourth-most-populous nation, has had outbreaks of the H5N1 avian flu strain in 26 of its 33 provinces, and so far 31 people have become sick and 23 of them have died. Diseased fowl increase the risk for humans and create opportunities for the virus to mutate into a form that may kill millions of people. 

The disease is known to have infected at least 193 people in Asia, the Middle East and Africa since 2003, killing 109. The H5N1 strain has all prerequisites to spawn a pandemic except the ability to spread easily from person-to-person, the World Health Organization said last week. The last flu pandemic, in 1968, killed 1 million people worldwide, according to the Geneva-based agency. 

The WHO yesterday confirmed Indonesia's 31st avian flu case after a man in Padang city on Sumatra island tested positive for the H5N1 virus. The health agency also said tests on samples taken from an 8-year-old girl who died in July 2005 indicated she also may have had the virus in the same month that the country's first fatality was reported. 

Animal Outbreaks 

Indonesia has the highest number of reported avian flu outbreaks after Vietnam and Thailand, according to data kept by the World Organization for Animal Health. The Paris-based veterinary body, known as the OIE, said 209 outbreaks of the lethal virus had been reported in poultry as at March 31. The Indonesian government hasn't notified the OIE of new outbreaks in more than three months. 

About half the Indonesians infected with the H5N1 virus have come from Jakarta and surrounding areas. Thirty million households in Indonesian villages keep more than 200 million chickens in backyards, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. 

Nabarro said Indonesia needs to ``build up the animal health services from the bottom up'' and maintain disease surveillance. 

Avian flu in poultry poses a greater risk to humans in Indonesia, where humans and birds live side by side in rural and urban areas. Mass culling of fowl to eradicate the disease is made difficult because poultry are a vital source of food and income in many Indonesian communities, Nabarro said. 

`Painstaking Work' 

``I'm afraid that's the kind of painstaking work that is going to be necessary,'' he said. 

``The government is very focused on the issue and the government is giving higher priority in improving animal health,'' he said. ``You have to maintain this effort for many years to come, particularly in improving bio-security in small- scale and backyard sectors.'' 

Bird flu controls in Indonesia, which successfully eradicated foot-and-mouth disease in cattle in the 1970s, have suffered because the government doesn't have enough people to monitor the spread of the disease in poultry. A law that came into effect in 2001 gave power to provinces and regencies with little supervision from the national government in Jakarta. 

A ``very slow'' surveillance and monitoring system and communication problems between central and provincial governments are hampering efforts to contain the virus, Azmi Mat Akhir, an official with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said last month. 

Indonesia, with a population of 220 million people, may spend about 3 trillion rupiah ($334 million) this year to implement control measures, including culling and vaccinating poultry, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said in February. The government on Feb. 24 started checking homes in Jakarta for diseased fowl in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Karima Anjani in Jakarta at
Last Updated: April 11, 2006 23:13 EDT

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