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Experts Criticize Indonesian Bird Flu Strategies, Say Culling Necessary


Indonesian health officials say the country must cull more poultry to curb growing numbers of avian influenza infections. Indonesia has confirmed its 39th human death from bird flu, and outbreaks continue.

Health experts at a news briefing in Jakarta Monday criticized Indonesia's strategy of containing avian influenza by vaccinating poultry.

Since 2003, the H5N1 virus has killed 39 people in Indonesia, one of the highest death tolls in the world for avian influenza. The number continues to rise, with the country recording one death every two and half days last month.

Trisatya Naipospos, vice chair of the National Committee on Bird Flu Control says, with an estimated 300 million backyard chickens in Indonesia, vaccination is too expensive and too slow. She says infected and exposed birds have to be taken out of circulation.

"We have to stop this transmission chain from poultry to human, and there's no other alternative way to do it, unless you kill the chickens," she said.

Stephen Bjorge, a medical officer for the Communicable Disease Section of the World Health Organization, says the culture of keeping backyard birds needs to change, and public education is a key strategy. But he admits it is difficult to convince people that dead and dying chickens are dangerous.

"All their lives, all of their ancestors lives, they have lived with the reality of chickens dying. But the fact is that this virus is something new and different," explained Bjorge. "I'm telling people all the time we're in the 21st century, there are too many humans on earth to live the way our ancestors lived. There has to be some changes."

Bjorge says, in Indonesia, the disease has not only affected farming communities and poultry workers as it has elsewhere. He says a quarter of Indonesia's cases have occurred in urban settings.

Indonesia has appealed for $900 million over three years to fight the disease, but donor nations and development organizations have asked for a detailed plan on how the money will be used.

In response to international pressure and criticism of the country's failure to stop the spread of the virus, the Indonesian government will convene a meeting of more than 40 international avian flu experts on Wednesday.

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