Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bird Flu Pandemic - the Indonesian Problem

Following criticism of his government’s failure to take appropriate steps to arrest the spread of avian flu, which could lead to a pandemic of monumental proportion for a country like Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told a World Bank forum in Helsinki that an Indonesian pandemic would have graver and more nightmarish consequences than the recent Boxing Day tsunami.

Undoubtedly he has been angling for more aid.

But back to the criticisms of his government - the reasons why his government has not make much headway have been due to a combination of:

(1) Reluctance to conduct enforced cullings because of inability or reluctance to pay compensation;

(2) Reluctance to invest in preventive measures of a hypothetical health risk because of other dire needs;

(3) Innate corruption and inefficiency at every level in the Indon Administration (federal, regional and local) which may skim off whatever limited funds for the detection, reporting and treatment (culling) of the outbreak of such flu, as well as possible cover up and refusal to report any outbreak to Jakarta;

(4) The daunting geographical spread of the Indonesian nation and the difficulty of informing/educating the people about the dangers and associated symptoms of avian flu;

(5) The Indonesian traditional and cultural love of birds, and consequential reluctance to kill any infected specimen;

(6) The domestic fowl as a popular and cheap food source, hence a reluctance to conduct culling.

Australia is attempting to form a barrier against the spread of the bird flu virus by training adjacent countries like Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Vietnam, Philippines etc to detect and deal with any outbreaks of the flu. But given those Indon problems, I wonder how the Indons would respond to such training?

The World Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has urged Indonesia, when aware of outbreaks of bird flu, to adopt Thailand's military-style approach by going from house to house to identify those fowls or birds tainted by avian flu and to execute control measures such as culling, vaccination, and biosecurity.

FAO has planned to send health teams to Indonesia to help the Republic combat the bird flu outbreaks. It is targeting Java as there are 120 million people living on the island plus the fact that most of Indonesia's bird flu cases have been from Java.

I wonder how the Indonesians in general and the Javanese in particular would respond to FAO blitzkrieg teams. Their culture militates against intrusion (house to house search), waste (culling), and outside interference. Their lack of awareness or understanding of an issue like bird flu may not be accommodating to FAO tactics. But conditions in Indonesia present an imminent danger with regards to the spread of bird flu.

We live just next door!

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