Project unites U.S., Singapore and Indonesia in the fight against bird flu

Indonesia the nation worst hit by bird flu is clearly struggling to cope with the deadly virus but has now joined with close neighbour Singapore to control the spread of the H5N1 virus.

To date Indonesia is top of the bird flu death toll with 75 reported deaths out of a total of 95 infected cases.

This week Indonesia has inaugurated an integrated bird flu centre as part of renewed efforts to contain a potential human outbreak of the deadly virus; the project was jointly established by the governments of Indonesia, Singapore and the United States.

The centre is part of a pilot project and is located in Tangerang in Banten province in West Java, the worst-affected region; if it is successful, more centres are planned in other areas of the vast sprawling archipelago.

The three-year project also involves a number of international agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation.

Indonesia is contributing 2.25 million dollars to the project, Singapore 1.5 million dollars as well as manpower and expertise, and the United States 900,000 dollars.

Singapore's Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan says strategies will cover surveillance of the disease in animals and humans, management of infected patients and control of disease in animals and also the restructuring of the poultry farming system.

The government says the objective is to translate Indonesia's national plan to a defined, localised geographical area, in order to determine and reduce the prevalence of the H5N1 virus in the area.

The agreement will mean Indonesia will receive equipment and transfers of technology from the U.S., and Tamiflu, a bird flu vaccine, from Singapore.

It will also enable officials to recommend approaches in reducing bird flu outbreaks on the ground that can be applied to other areas in Indonesia.

The H5N1 virus has been found in 30 of the country's 33 provinces and research indicates that the strain found in Indonesia is the most potent.

The project will be welcomed by many experts who regard Indonesia as a weak link in the global effort to avert a possible pandemic.

A sudden rise in bird flu deaths in January prompted the Indonesian government to ban backyard poultry farms in residential areas of nine provinces and also place tight restrictions on the movement and sale of poultry and poultry products across the nine provinces and prepare more hospitals to treat human cases of the virus.

Although almost all of the 172 people worldwide who have died of bird flu since 2003 were in direct contact with sick birds, scientists worry that the virus will eventually mutate into a form more easily transmissible among humans, triggering a global pandemic with the potential to kill millions.

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