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Ciptapangan Visitor
Much more must be done to fight bird flu
posted by admin on 20/09/06

The UN special envoy for avian influenza, David Nabarro, met last week with senior government officials and discussed the problems fighting the disease in the country.

Question: What was the core of your discussion with Coordinating Minister for the People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie?

Answer: This is my fourth visit to Indonesia within a year and I have been working closely with your government to examine ways in which avian influenza in both birds and humans is being tackled. In each visit, I want to find out how the government's response is improving and I've been really very pleasantly satisfied with what I see as a real improvement in the last few weeks, particularly with the way in which the avian influenza is being tackled in poultry.

The discussions with the minister were about the plans for extending this animal health work to other districts, about the government finance, about the compensation payments and how the government is proposing to increase the compensation.

We also talked about the vaccination program for birds and the public information campaign. We agreed to create a detailed plan with an action checklist undertaken by different stakeholders in central government and also at the district level. We will look harder at the resources needed and we will try to make sure that the donor communities respond to the promised increase in government funding with an increase in donor funding as well.

Indonesia's handling of bird flu has been widely criticized. Why do you say you were satisfied?

Well, first of all the changes that I'm describing have occurred quite recently. Secondly, the challenges faced by Indonesia are very big, and it takes time to put in place some of the planning and early development. And thirdly, I'm satisfied that there has been progress, but at the same time there's a lot to be done, particularly by the agriculture ministry. It is important for somebody in my position to speak out about good progress. At the same time, I must stress that there's a lot more that needs to be done to get good quality animal health services in all 444 districts in this country.

Could you elaborate in which areas improvements should be made?

The following activities are necessary. First, it is vital that veterinary personnel in each district are looking out for bird flu cases and responding to them. That means the efficient killing of affected birds and those around them, and reliable vaccinations to try to reduce the spread the disease among birds. It also means compensating those who have lost their birds and making sure that the way the birds are cared for reduces the risk of infection in humans.

These are quite difficult activities to introduce, especially because the political system in Indonesia is very decentralized. We need to increase the level of activities at the provincial or district level. And we know that it is difficult work, so from outside we're expressing solidarity with the government and the people of Indonesia.

The National Committee on Bird Flu Control and Pandemic Preparedness recently said it had not received a single cent from donors. What is your comment?

I think today we were able, in a careful way, to look at the government funding for avian flu and also the way in which the compensation and other activities can be funded. It is clear that there are ways to increase the funding provided by government. I won't go into detail because you have to ask the government about this.

There has also been a lot of funding for Indonesia. It has not all gone exactly where people might be expecting it, and so we have been discussing ways in which the funding will increase. Not as much as we want, but there are perhaps more than US$40 million of additional assistance that is going to be provided in the next few weeks and months.

We've been planning to make more efforts to mobilize even more money from the donors. I need to go to these donors and say "look, Indonesia's program has improved in the last few weeks, so you should put in more because the government is ready to use the money well." It is a continuous process of mobilizing money; you don't do it once and it requires the donors' understanding of what is happening in the country.

The government, on the other hand, has to demonstrate that the money it has is being used well, that there is a need for new money, and it has to have system to spend the money efficiently and without any losses. These things have to be in place to raise cash. You have to have good program and you have to demonstrate it's good, and then the cash will come.

The donors are said to provide funding in the forms of goods and technical assistance instead of money. Is that deliberate?

The avian influenza problem in here is very complicated. And so one of the first requirements is for technical specialists, both Indonesian and international ones, who can study the nature of the problem, and then understand its severity in order to plan the control strategy.

You can't actively research a strategy without having technical people working on these issues. I'm very pleased that there has been a strong technical focus recently. I see that there is a lot more technical expertise here now than there was some months ago.

Is bird flu here getting worse?

One of the things that happens when you improve the surveillance of the country is that you also likely to report more avian flu because you're finding more cases. So, at the moment we're certainly have information that tells us that avian flu is quite widespread in more than 290 districts out of 444.

You should not then say that the situation is getting worse. It's probably because now we know more about this situation. So, I can't tell you if the situation is getting better or worse, but I can tell you that it's a serious situation, which is a concern to me and to others.

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