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An Avian Flu Update

Updated On: Feb 17, 2006

The spread of avian flu to Africa and now Western Europe- the latest case being reported in wild swans in Germany and Austria- had raised the ante on how to prevent a real pandemic from happening.

Increasing cases involving infections of humans, and the increasing death toll in Indonesiaare worrying signs.

Indonesia has been well advised by the World Health Organization to improve its hygiene and sanitation standards, especially in its traditional wet markets, a tall order for a country facing so many challenges without adequate resources.

The highly pathogenic strain of bird flu, the most deadly variant of the virus, has affected birds in two-thirds of the provinces in Indonesia, its spread is further and wider than most other countries affected by the same virus, a testimony to Indonesia's huge challenge. The spread and area of the virus in Indonesiais wider and becomes difficult to control in an island archipelago of 17,000 islands and 220 million people. On top of that, Indonesia's farming is outdated, obsolete and dangerous by contemporary standards. Millions of ducks and chickens in the country is actually bred and kept in the yards of both rural, and shockingly, urban homes, facilitating the transmission of the virus.

Human factors complicate Indonesia's efforts even more as it has held back from mass killing of chickens, only selectively killing and culling parts of it, often guided by financial and political reasons rather than rationality. This is due to the extent of corruption within the country pervasive in Indonesian society to the highest levels of the leadership. Indonesia may need even more help, aid, fund, support and understanding from its neighbors nervously watching this development from the sideline.Indonesiamay once again need money and aid.

The last time this was provided was in Jan 2006 when an international donors' conference in Beijingmobilized 1.9 billion US dollars (out of which 900 million would come from loan) for dealing with the bird flu, primarily for low-income countries in Southeast Asia, of which Indonesia received prominent attention. The biggest donors were the USand EU and their money was expected to be utilized regionally by Southeast Asian countries in a bid to stop the spread. But as the virus continue to spread, it would take more than money to help Indonesiacope with the disease.Complications by human factors is probably why President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono invited the governors of Jakarta, West Java, Banten, Lampung, South Sulawesi and Central Java to a meeting at his office. Guidelines are issued to the governors for handling the disease as a way of standardizing approach. Coordinating Minister for People`s Welfare Aburizal Bakrie announced that a coordinating team would be set up in each province, bringing the fight to the local levels while organizing bird flu eradication campaigns and tamiflu production as well. A national clean-up campaign would follow. The Indonesian government would also purchase up to two million tamiflu capsules to stock up while developing indigenous capabilities in producing such medicine through a cooperation agreement with PT Kimia Farma, an Indonesian-based company.

Such steps are urgent as deaths from the disease are on an increasing trend. However, it remains to be seen if these steps can be effectively implemented with the multitude of problems that Jakartafaces.

Sources:

*Indonesia says two more bird flu cases confirmed (Feb 12, The Star)

* Bird flu pledges total US$1.9b (Jan 18, CAN)

* President Discusses Bird Flu with Six Governors (Antara, Feb 15)

* Regional Govts Spearheads of Fight Against Bird Flu, Minister Says (Antara, Feb 16)