Indonesia asks for help fighting surge in bird flu deaths

21-06-2006 | |
Indonesia asks for help fighting surge in bird flu deaths

Indonesia calls for the international community to help it fight bird flu. The request follows a surge in human cases this year that have put the country on pace to become the world’s hardest hit by the virus.

A WHO-approved laboratory in Hong Kong confirmed Tuesday that a teenage boy from Jakarta died last week of the disease, pushing the country’s toll to 39, second only to Vietnam, which has 42.

Animal health experts are at a three-day meeting in Jakarta to discuss the matter. “What is happening in Indonesia? That is the No. 1 question that we very much would like to have the answer from you,” Bayu Krishnamurthi, Indonesia’s national bird flu coordinator said in his opening speech. “With all of these limited resources – human, financial, institutional – what should we do?”

The meeting in Jakarta comes a month after Indonesia announced the world’s largest reported family cluster. Six of seven family members from a remote farming village on the island of Sumatra died after testing positive for the bird flu virus. An eighth relative was buried before samples could be taken, but WHO considers her part of the cluster.

Scientists have not been able to link the infected relatives to contact with sick birds and believe limited human-to-human transmission occurred. However, the virus has not mutated and no one outside the family has fallen ill.

Indonesia lacks manpower and money to battle the H5N1 virus alone, especially since the country has been struck by a series of natural disasters, including the 2004 tsunami and an earthquake last month on Java Island.

Krishnamurthi said education and public awareness were key to fighting the disease, but that was not easy in a poor country with 220 million people spread across thousands of islands roughly the size of Europe.

He said many people depend on backyard chickens for their survival. It is “not an easy task to ask them to kill their chickens because we are saying it is dangerous for them in the future.”

Indonesia has said it needs US$900 million (€710 million) over the next three years for its overall battle against the H5N1 virus but has only budgeted US$59 million (€46 million) for 2006. This figure includes compensation for culled birds, stockpiling drugs for humans and other expenses.