Indonesia should immediately slaughter poultry in areas affected by bird flu and spend more money to stop the bird flu virus from developing into a human pandemic, the UN said yesterday.
Bird flu has killed four people in Indonesia since July, and two other recent fatalities are being investigated. Tests have confirmed that a five year-old girl who died earlier this week did not have the virus as originally feared, the health minister said.
Another 22 with symptoms of the disease are under observation in hospitals nationwide, most of them in Jakarta. The health of most of the patients was improving, doctors said.
"In view of the worrying situation, it is necessary for the government to improve its virus control policies and strategies," Joseph Domenech, the head veterinarian for the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, said in a statement.
The government -- accused of responding slowly to the outbreak -- has in recent days stepped up efforts to curtail its spread. It fired the country's chief of animal health control, said it planned to cull chickens in infected areas, and threatened to forcefully hospitalize anyone showing symptoms of the disease.
Teams of scientists from the US and Japan are helping the government investigate the current outbreak, said Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab.
"We have the highest confidence in the ability and energy of the government of Indonesia to work on this problem," US Ambassador to Indonesia B. Lynn Pascoe told reporters after meeting with Shihab.
The FAO said that Indonesian officials "should immediately carry out control measures such as culling and targeted vaccination in high-risk areas" and "that more financial resources should be made available for the control of bird flu in animals to prevent a human pandemic."
"Culling if done properly ... is very successful in removing the source of the virus that can both infect animals and humans," said Juan Lubroth, an animal health expert with the FAO in Rome. "I think Indonesia needs to look at compensation strategies that will encourage people to come forward with their animals."
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in large swaths of Asia since 2003, killing at least 63 people and resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of birds.