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Indonesia Coping with Threat of Avian Flu

  • Suzy Tekunan
  • Ahadian Utama

Bird flu has killed more than a dozen people in Indonesia in the past year. This has had a crippling effect on industries dealing with chicken. But not everyone is paying attention to the warnings from health officials about bird flu. VOA's Suzy Tekunan and Ahadian Utama produced this report, which is narrated by George Dwyer.

Chicken satays are a popular dish in Jakarta, but recently they have not been flying off the grill (selling well).

Muhammad Amin says he used to sell 400 or so skewers, but now he's lucky to sell half that.

It is a similar story at the Jatinegara wholesale market in east Jakarta.

Tulah has been selling chickens here for 30 years. He buys them live and slaughters them for restaurants. But his business is declining too.

All this creates problems for businesses, but larger ones can get back on their feet faster because they have more resources.

Japfa is a poultry and poultry feed business with annual sales worth $500 million.

It hopes to show the public that it is safe to eat well-cooked poultry and they have no need to fear contracting avian flu from food, says Dr. Teguh Rajitno. "We work with the government to educate the public about what bird flu, or avian flu, is all about and what the effects are. Bird flu is a very recent occurrence in Indonesia."

There is concern about a potential over-reaction to the dangers of eating chicken, and to even a suspicion of bird flu. Thirteen-month-old Shakila is leaving this hospital after ten days of observation. Her mother had brought Shakila to the hospital after suspecting the worst.

Shakila left the hospital with a clean bill of health, but her mother says bringing her there was the right thing to do.

On the other hand, health officials believe some Indonesians are not taking the potential risk of bird flu seriously enough.

The Indonesian government is working hard to increase public awareness of avian influenza so citizens will recognize the symptoms of the deadly virus. The health ministry estimates only 30 percent of avian flu patients make a full recovery. They believe these numbers are low because many people wait too long after infection to receive treatment.

A lack of bird flu knowledge is troubling to doctors because tamiflu, one of the few medicines thought to work against bird flu, is only effective in the first 48 hours of infection.

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