Friday, April 27, 2007

Indonesia Goes Into Blackout Mode Over Bird Flu Data And Deaths

The outbreak of bird flu-related human deaths in Indonesia has, thankfully, gone quiet over the past two weeks. That doesn't mean that nobody else has died in Indonesia since local media reported 9 deaths in just 10 days, only that the government is not officially reporting new outbreaks or deaths to the World Health Organisation, who keeps the official world tally of H5N1 deaths and infections.

Now comes the revelation that the Indonesian government is once again refusing to share its bird flu data with the World Health Organisation :
Indonesia has gone back on its pledge to resume sending bird flu samples to the World Health Organization (WHO), while upping the rhetoric in a standoff that has pitted poor countries against the rich.

Health officials from the nation hardest hit by bird flu say it's unfair for WHO to simply hand over their H5N1 viruses to drug companies, arguing any vaccine produced from their specimens would likely be out of reach for many cash-strapped countries.

Some international scientists have accused the government of holding the virus hostage, keeping experts from monitoring whether it is mutating into a dangerous form that could spread easily among people.

"We don't care," Triono Soendoro, head of the National Institute for Health Research and Development, said to the mounting criticism, maintaining that his country was fighting for a bigger cause.

"Exploitation by industrialized countries toward poor countries is not something new," she wrote recently in an editorial. "This situation brings poverty, suffering and stupidity."

...some experts say she has a point, and that Western governments should realize a pandemic that starts in Asia would not only kill indiscriminately but also cripple economies everywhere. There is capacity to produce up to 500 million doses of flu vaccine a year -- far short of what would be needed in a pandemic.

"It's not just about altruistic public health," said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota infectious disease specialist. "When we realize Southeast Asia and China are shut down economically from a pandemic perspective, so goes our economy. So goes many critical products and services that we count on every day."

The WHO hasn't counted any Indonesian bird flu cases since the country stopped sending samples, keeping its official count at 63. Indonesian officials have recorded 11 deaths since then.

And how many more have died since that have not been reported in the media?

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