Friday, June 02, 2006

36 have died of bird flu in Indonesia

Star: JAKARTA: Still reeling from the devastating effects of an earthquake that took more than 6,200 lives, Indonesia is faced with yet another threat, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns.
Indonesia averaged one human bird flu death every 2½ days in May, putting it on pace to soon surpass Vietnam as the world's hardest-hit country.
The latest death, announced on Wednesday, was a 15-year-old boy whose preliminary tests were positive for the H5N1 virus. It comes as international health officials express growing frustration that they must fight Indonesia's stifling bureaucracy as well as the disease.
“We're tying to fix this leak in the roof, and there's a storm," WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said. “The storm is: the virus is in animals almost everywhere and the lack of effective attention that's being addressed to the problem."
Indonesia, a massive archipelago of 17,000 islands that is home to 220 million people, has a patchwork of local, regional and national bureaucracies that often send mixed messages. The ultimate impression, officials said, is often that no one is truly at the helm.
Steven Bjorge, a WHO epidemiologist in Jakarta, said health ministry officials will often meet with outside experts to formulate plans to fight bird flu, but the schemes are rarely realised.
“Their power only extends to the walls of their office," he said, adding their advice must reach nearly 450 districts, where local officials decide whether to take action.
National government officials concede the problem.
“The local government has the money, thus the power to decide what to prioritise," said Hariadi Wibisono, a senior official at the Health Ministry in Jakarta. “If some district sees bird flu as not important, then we have a problem."
Indonesia has logged at least 36 human deaths in the past year – 25 since January – and is expected to soon eclipse Vietnam's 42 fatalities.
The two countries make up the bulk of the world's 127 total deaths since the virus began ripping through Asian poultry stocks in late 2003.
Attention has been fixed for the past week on one village on Sumatra island where six of seven relatives died of bird flu. An eighth family member was buried before samples were collected, but WHO considers her part of the cluster.
Experts have not been able to link contact between the relatives and infected birds, but scientists believe human-to-human transmission has occurred in a handful of other smaller family clusters, all involving blood relatives.
The disease remains hard for people to catch and most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds.

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