- JAKARTA -- Still reeling from the devastating effects of an earthquake
that took more than 6,200 lives, Indonesia is faced with yet another threat,
the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns.
- Indonesia averaged one human bird flu
death every 212 days in May, putting it on pace to soon surpass Vietnam
as the world's hardest-hit country.
- The latest death, announced on Wednesday,
was a 15-year-old boy whose preliminary tests were positive for the H5N1
virus. It comes as international health officials express growing frustration
that they must fight Indonesia's stifling bureaucracy as well as the disease.
- "We're tying to fix this leak in
the roof, and there's a storm,'' WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said. "The
storm is: the virus is in animals almost everywhere and the lack of effective
attention that's being addressed to the problem.''
- Indonesia, a massive archipelago of 17,000
islands that is home to 220 million people, has a patchwork of local, regional
and national bureaucracies that often send mixed messages. The ultimate
impression, officials said, is often that no one is truly at the helm.
- Steven Bjorge, a WHO epidemiologist in
Jakarta, said health ministry officials will often meet with outside experts
to formulate plans to fight bird flu, but the schemes are rarely realised.
- "Their power only extends to the
walls of their office,'' he said, adding their advice must reach nearly
450 districts, where local officials decide whether to take action.
- National government officials concede
- "The local government has the money,
thus the power to decide what to prioritise,'' said Hariadi Wibisono, a
senior official at the Health Ministry in Jakarta. "If some district
sees bird flu as not important, then we have a problem.''
- Indonesia has logged at least 36 human
deaths in the past year 25 since January and is expected to
soon eclipse Vietnam's 42 fatalities.
- The two countries make up the bulk of
the world's 127 total deaths since the virus began ripping through Asian
poultry stocks in late 2003.
- Attention has been fixed for the past
week on one village on Sumatra island where six of seven relatives died
of bird flu. An eighth family member was buried before samples were collected,
but WHO considers her part of the cluster.
- Experts have not been able to link contact
between the relatives and infected birds, but scientists believe human-to-human
transmission has occurred in a handful of other smaller family clusters,
all involving blood relatives.
- The disease remains hard for people to
catch and most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds.