Sat, 21 Feb 2004

WHO urges solid action plan to prevent bird flu

Eva C. Komandjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the government that the longer it takes to implement preventive measures to handle the bird flu outbreak, the greater the possibility for poultry and humans to contract the virus.

WHO Indonesia representative Georg Petersen told The Jakarta Post on Friday that the government needed a thorough action plan to control the further spread of the disease and it needed to be done perfectly to eliminate the disease in the country.

Many fear that the bird flu virus may mutate into a new bird- to-human strain that could lead to a global pandemic if no immediate measures are taken to contain the disease.

WHO has criticized Indonesia for its delayed reaction to the outbreak and for making conflicting statements as to its policy.

Indonesia's neglect was evident in its confirmation of the outbreak in January, months after the virus had already infected and killed millions of chickens. The first case of bird flu was recorded in August 2003.

Following the regional bird flu meeting on Jan. 28 in Bangkok, Indonesia initially rejected a mass culling and agreed only to vaccinate chickens. The government did an about-face and ordered a selective culling on Jan. 29, pressured by international criticism and WHO.

With a population of 216 million spread across over 17,000 islands, the country is facing an uphill task in implementing measures to control the disease.

Director of the Veterinary Community Bachtiar Moerad at the Ministry of Agriculture said on Friday that vaccination was the key method being used to prevent the outbreak from escalating.

"Selective culling is only undertaken in new areas that had not been affected by the bird flu previously," he said.

Meanwhile, health ministry spokesperson Mariani Reksoprojo said the ministry's surveillance team was continuing to monitor hospitals across the country for any human cases.

"Although we are also dealing with a dengue fever outbreak, this does not mean that we are neglecting the bird flu. We have separate monitoring teams," she said.

According to the latest information, no human cases of bird flu have been reported in Indonesia.

Bird flu has claimed 15 lives in Vietnam and seven in Thailand.