Indonesia admits it can't cope with bird flu

During a three-day meeting of international experts in Jakarta, Indonesia officials have admitted that the country lacks the manpower and money to battle the H5N1 virus following a series of natural disasters.

According to Indonesia's national bird flu coordinator, Bayu Krishnamurthi, the country has limited human, financial and institutional resources and needs more help.

Indonesia is apparently still struggling to cope with the financial consequences of the 2004 tsunami and the earthquake in May and has little money to deal the H5N1 threat.

It is appealing for $50 million, spread over three years, to set up a system to combat bird flu in farmed and backyard poultry.

While the Indonesian government has pledged $59 million for this year to deal with bird flu many say as much as $900 million is needed.

Krishnamurthi says the $50 million will help establish better surveillance as well as a more coordinated and effective rapid response system, but the country is overwhelmed with adverse events.

Indonesia has recorded the world's highest number of human bird flu cases this year, and 39 of those infected have died.

Bird flu has killed at least 130 people worldwide since it re-emerged in Asian poultry in 2003.

Of Indonesia's large population of 220 million, many live on the thousands of islands and public awareness campaigns are difficult to deploy.

A large proportion of the population depends on backyard poultry for survival and requesting poor people destroy their chickens is seen as a threat to survival by millions of Indonesians.

In the largest cluster of infections seen so far eight family members died from bird flu in Sumatra and it is more than likely the family infected each other as they shared a very small room.

Keiji Fukuda, WHO's coordinator for the Global Influenza Program in Geneva, says the case resembles other family clusters where limited human-to-human transmission occurred following close contact.

Fortunately the virus was not found to have mutated but the H5N1 virus has the ability to transmit from human-to-human if there is continuous, close physical contact with the infected person.

Scientists noted only blood relatives were infected and have yet to find an animal source for the cluster of infections.

At present if H5N1 is going to get a grip anywhere it will be Indonesia, where it will have ample opportunity to mutate. All the virus needs to do is mix in with a regular flu virus and could easily become human-transmissible.

Catching the H5N1 virus is at present no easy task and it needs to get way down into the lungs to really produce an effect.

Even the coughs and sneezes of an infected person only expel very small amounts of the virus making it very difficult to infect other humans.

For the virus to make the jump from human to human it will need to infect the upper respiratory tract and such infections are easier to treat and survival rates are much better.

Experts believe if or when the virus does mutate the illness will not be as deadly for infected humans as it is now.

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