07/25/2005, 00.00
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Special measures against bird flu

by Matthias Hariyadi
Government lacks funds for mass culling of poultry at risk.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesia does not have the financial means to cull poultry and pigs on a mass scale to prevent bird flu contagion as the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested.

The H5N1 virus, also known as avian influenza, struck again in the last month in at least three Indonesian provinces: Banten, North Sumatra and Jambi.

After a man and his two daughters succumbed to the disease in a place near Jakarta, the Health Ministry has set aside 44 hospitals to face the emergency.

The government had also pledged to cull poultry and pigs within a three kilometre radius from outbreak points, but is now proceeding with caution.

Agriculture Minister Anton Apriantono said that the culling operation would cost up to 800 billion rupees (US$ 84.2 million) but her department has only 104 billion at its disposal for the emergency, forcing the authorities to destroy only the animals that are already sick and vaccinate the rest.

Minister Apriantono said that half of the money was spent on vaccinating the animals and reimbursing affected farmers. Yesterday, 31 pigs and 40 ducks were culled.

Alert remains high to prevent the virus from spreading and mutating.

A medical team has arrived in the virus-affected areas to collect samples and check for infected people.

At least 2,000 anti-virus tablets arrived from Thailand whilst another 3,000 were donated by the WHO.

"These medical supplies are needed to counter the virus and for medication. We have no vaccines, since vaccines are only used for chickens and not for humans," Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said.

The Agriculture Ministry's General Directorate for Breeding will focus on chicken even though the virus has shown up in two pig farms in Tangerang, Banten province.

"This should be done, since the virus is a conventional one. It is transmitted from chickens to human beings and we have not yet found any case of human to human transmission," Minister Supari told reporters.

Recently, officials in Yogyakarta reported scores of dead chickens infected with the bird flu.

A local veterinarian said that the virus was found at chicken outlets in a traditional market in Terban Gondokusuman.

Minister Supari and Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are involved in a campaign promoting white meats and eggs, promising consumers the highest standards in meat quality controls.

The authorities have also set up Virus information hotlines that are available 24 hours a day.

Ms Supari also asked for media cooperation calling on journalists to report to the authorities any new cases they find.

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