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Indonesia 'needs bird flu help'

A man passes a chicken at a market in Medan, Indonesia, in Feb 2008
Indonesia is the nation worst affected by bird flu

Indonesia needs more help to rein in the bird flu virus, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation has said.

The human death toll from bird flu in the country rose to 100 earlier this year - almost half of the total worldwide fatalities.

The FAO's chief veterinary expressed concerns that failure to tackle the disease could lead the virus to mutate and cause a "human influenza pandemic".

Most of those infected are thought to have caught the disease from poultry.

"The human mortality rate from bird flu in Indonesia is the highest in the world and there will be more human cases if we do not focus more on containing the disease at source in animals," said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech in a statement on Tuesday.

"The avian influenza situation in Indonesia is grave - all international partners and national authorities need to step up their efforts for halting the spread of the disease in animals and making the fight against the virus a top priority."

Mr Domenech also expressed concerns about a possible mutation of the virus which could be easily passed from human to human.

"Furthermore, I am deeply concerned that the high level of virus circulation in birds in the country could create conditions for the virus to mutate and to finally cause a human influenza pandemic," he said.

Endemic

Surveillance and response teams are working in 193 out of 448 districts in Indonesia, yet birds in 31 out of 33 provinces are affected, Mr Domenech said.

Indonesia is facing an uphill battle against a virus that is difficult to contain
Joseph Domenech
FAO chief veterinary officer

The virus is endemic in Java, Sumatra, Bali and southern Sulawesi with sporadic outbreaks reported from other areas, the FAO said.

By June 2008, more than 2,000 surveillance and response teams will be active in more than 300 districts in areas of the country where the disease is endemic, Mr Domenech said.

But that may not be enough.

"Indonesia is facing an uphill battle against a virus that is difficult to contain. Major human and financial resources, stronger political commitment and strengthened co-ordination between the central, provincial and district authorities are required to improve surveillance and control measures," Mr Domenech said.

Since the first outbreaks in 2003, bird flu has spread rapidly across Java into Bali, Kalimantan and Sumatra. In 2006, the virus spread further east infecting Papua and much of Sulawesi.

Since the H5N1 virus emerged in South East Asia in late 2003, it has claimed more than 220 lives around the world.



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