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Indonesia Questioned Over Bird Flu Preparedness


International health officials want to know what Indonesia is doing to stop the spread of avian influenza, which has claimed 85 human lives there and shows little sign of slowing. As Chad Bouchard reports for VOA from Jakarta, Indonesian officials are defending their efforts.

Officials from the United Nations' Avian and Human Influenza program are in Bali for a two-day meeting with the Indonesian government. They are assessing ways to improve the country's programs to prevent bird flu from spreading.

Indonesia's head of the National Bird Flu Committee, Bayu Krisnamurthi, says officials have are getting better at quickly detecting human outbreaks of the virus.

"We already tripled the units for surveillance in Indonesia, so the components of surveillance is becoming more and more complete," said Bayu. "It's not yet perfect for all of Indonesia, but at least we made some progress."

Avian influenza is endemic in birds globally. The most worrisome strain of the bird flu is the H5N1 virus, which has caused the greatest number of human cases and fatalities since the most recent outbreak began in Asia in 2003. More than 50 percent of people who have gotten sick with this type of bird flu have died.

Most human infections come from contact with sick fowl or their feces. In Indonesia there is greater worry of transmission to humans who live in close proximity to millions of backyard chickens.

Scientists fear that it is just a matter of time before the virus mutates into a form easily transmissible between humans.

On Monday, the World Health Organization warned a flu pandemic was inevitable, and cautioned against complacency among public health and disaster preparedness officials world wide.

The group in Bali is expected to establish a new set of guidelines for Indonesia on Wednesday.