Thursday, September 22, 2005




September 22, 2005

The Jakarta Post yesterday reported “something approaching panic” across Indonesia. The mass perception is the bird flu outbreak, in poultry, is growing out of control.

Fear has infected the society and even free-range chicken farmers are feeling the effects, finding few buyers for healthy birds.

The Ragunan Zoo in South Jakarta appears to have had a major psychological impact on the middle and upper classes of Indonesia. Poultry farmers and traders have had no illusions for months as to the seriousness of the bird flu outbreak, but it is only in recent days that office workers in Jakarta have grown very concerned about what is going on.

In Jakarta and East Java residents who keep a few chickens for eggs have been seen releasing the birds or killing them in fear of contracting bird flu.

A public warning from the government added to the ongoing public awareness campaign and it is impacting. One family in East Kalimantan demanded a vet vaccinate their cat against the virus.

Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said of the bird flu crisis today, “This can be described as an epidemic. These (cases) will happen again as long as we cannot determine the source.”

The UN health agency announced last week there was little time before human to human infections began.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced plans to cordon off areas where bird flu outbreaks originated.

The Jakarta Post reported this would mean shutting down towns or villages and using the military to prevent entry or exit of civilians from the area suspected of being infected with bird flu.

The WHO wants a mass cull of all poultry, in all Indonesian provinces, but Indonesian Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono has told Reuters there would only be culls where a bird flu outbreak was serious. He defined “serious” as being an area where more than 20% of the birds were infected with the virus.

These areas are yet to be identified and the WHO is bull-horning that time is running out and that Indonesia cannot afford to wait for bird flu to show itself in any greater volume.

Sardikin Giriputro, deputy head of the Jakarta Hospital where five year old Riska died yesterday said, “The symptoms were heavy pneumonia, the same as bird flu symptoms. Her family confirmed to us that she had contact with dead chickens.”

Other reports deny the family said this, though this will be hard to confirm immediately as the family has now been quarantined.

All six Indonesian deaths related to bird flu have occurred in the vicinity of Jakarta.

The Indonesian government installed a state of high alert on Monday. Authorities now have the power to forcibly hospitalise anyone showing symptoms of bird flu. This will be extremely difficult, as the initial symptoms are no greater, or more visible, than common flu.

A zoo worker and two food vendors from the closed zoo are now hospitalised and under being tested for the presence of bird flu.

No new cases have been reported in recent days in Vietnam, which has already seen at least 44 deaths after contact with infected poultry. In Thailand twelve people have died since the outbreak began almost two years ago.

After the emergency cabinet meeting, the Minister of Agriculture Anton Apriyantono admitted infected zone culls and farm isolations were not going as planned.

"We admit that the outbreak is difficult to contain as its source is still unclear," he told the Jakarta Post.

Mass culls are now planned, but the widespread habit of keeping a few chickens for eggs and eventual meat will make a total cull next to impossible, as the virus would spread faster than the teams could cull birds.

The House of Representatives approved almost $9million to pay for biosecurity and compensate poultry breeders and farmers.

The World Health Organisation said last week Indonesia would need $250 million to do the job properly.

But added to the fear of the virus spreading from farm to farm, and chicken pen to duck hutch, Indonesia is growing concerned about the spread of the virus through migrating wild birds.

This may also be part of the Indonesian government’s disinformation campaign surrounding bird flu (and disinformation will not be rare from any government in the world if a pandemic breaks out).

The Jakarta Post said Ministry of Health officials alluded to the initial poultry outbreak as having been caused by the arrival of migrating birds arriving in Indonesia from infected countries.

The biggest official mystery so far is how the first four victims who died contracted the virus. Such concerns, however, already seem to be fading as a priority. The official Indonesian government line will no doubt keep to the already aired claims the virus came to Indonesia from another country and that it will be impossible for Indonesia to stop its spread completely, as it is now “a world problem”.

The World Health Organisation has said it will be difficult to contain bird flu in a country the size of Indonesia, with more than 100 million people living in harsh poverty.

It is, the WHO said, “a serious situation”.

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