Indonesia's Bird Flu Cases Far from a Pandemic: Official

A livestock vendor shows a chicken to a customer at his open air stall beside a road in Jakarta.

Indonesia, which has the highest number of human bird flu infections and fatalities, was unlikely to be hit by a pandemic of the disease in the immediate future, an official has said.

"We are still far from a pandemic," said Bayu Krisnamurthi, the chief executive of the Indonesian National Committee for Avian Influenza Control and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (Komnas FBPI.)

However, he cautioned the possibility of a pandemic remained, as no one could predict how the H5N1 virus that caused the disease would mutate.

The Komnas FBPI, set up by presidential decree in March, coordinates government responses to cases of H5N1 bird flu, which experts fear could mutate into a form that spreads easily between humans, setting off a global pandemic.

The vast majority of bird flu cases in Indonesia and elsewhere have occurred after contact with infected poultry.

Indonesia now has 72 confirmed cases of human bird flu infection, 55 of them fatal.

But Krisnamurthi said the ratio of confirmed cases compared to reported suspect cases was decreasing, from about 30 to 35 percent six months ago to currently about 14 percent.

He said although bird flu had been found in 30 of the country's 32 provinces, human infections were contained to nine provinces.

He said the fatality rate for confirmed cases remained largely unchanged at about 75 percent, due to late treatment following late diagnosis, and limited health facilities.

The Komnas FBPI, a ministerial-level committee, was now prioritizing a public awareness campaign on the disease and what to do should infected poultry or individuals be found.

It would also work to promote active surveillance, and continuous vaccination of poultry.

Krisnamurthi said the public awareness campaign seemed to be beginning to bear fruit, with more rapid reporting of suspected infections as well as rising public initiatives to contain the damage, including the slaughtering of sick poultry.

Efforts to curb the spread of the disease have been hampered by the reluctance of some poultry owners, especially backyard farmers, to hand over their sick or potentially infected birds for slaughter.

Krisnamurthi called on people not to be reticent in reporting cases or allowing the slaughter of their poultry as the government was now not only compensating them for the killed fowl but also providing some form of compensation until they could restock their poultry.

"It is not only their chickens that are compensated for, but also their livelihood until they could restock," Krisnamurthi said.

Livelihood compensation would be integrated with poverty eradication programs, including through financial or rice and food aid, or provisional jobs, he said.

In the longer term, the Komnas FBPI also aimed at restructuring the animal husbandry sector and hoped that the process could be started sometime in 2007.

Krisnamurthi also said Indonesia was continuously preparing in case a pandemic did occur.

"We also have to be honest, that we are not yet trained to handle problems at that scale," he said, adding that he hoped continuous exercises and practice could help prepare the government for any pandemic.

According to the World Health Organization, worldwide there have been 256 human cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu since the latest outbreak in 2003, resulting in 152 deaths.

Source: AFP

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