Sun, Mar 12, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia promises to work harder to curb bird flu

AP , JAKARTA AND BAKU, AZERBAIJAN

Indonesia's health minister promised to work harder to protect the public from bird flu after two young children died of the H5N1 virus, raising the country's toll to 22.

"We will carry out intensive rapid diagnosis of patients suspected of having the disease," Siti Fadilah Supari told reporters late on Friday, after tests came back positive for a three-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl who died last week.

Both were from Central Java province and apparently became ill after coming into contact with sick chickens.

Hariadi Wibisono, a senior Health Ministry official, supported the call for quicker diagnoses, but denied that the government had been slow in determining suspect human bird flu cases.

"There's nothing wrong so far," he said. "This rapid diagnosis will allow doctors to determine human bird flu cases as early as possible."

The H5N1 strain of the virus has killed or forced the culling of more than 140 million chickens and ducks across Asia since 2003, and has recently spread to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Ninety-seven people also have died, two-thirds of them in Indonesia and Vietnam, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)

Indonesia has been criticized for not acting fast enough to quell the spread of the disease when it first appeared in chickens three years ago.

The government has said it can do little more than vaccinate poultry stocks -- arguing the internationally recommended policy of slaughtering all chickens and ducks in affected areas would be too costly.

It occasionally carries out selective slaughters, but those efforts are seen largely as made-for-TV public relations campaigns.

The virus has appeared in birds in 26 of the country's 33 provinces, and jumped to humans killing 22 -- all in the last nine months.

Meanwhile, the WHO plans to reinforce a team of experts in Azerbaijan, as authorities in the former Soviet republic investigate whether four people who died in recent days were infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

The WHO will send additional lab equipment, testing supplies and other equipment tomorrow, the UN health organization said in a statement released at its Geneva headquarters.

Authorities in Azerbaijan said they were investigating the deaths of a 16-year-old boy at a Baku clinic on Friday and a 17-year-old girl who died on Wednesday. Samples were to be sent to Britain next week for testing to see if they were infected with the virus.

Both teens were from the same district on the Caspian Sea coast.

Earlier tests were negative on a 20-year-old woman from the same district who died recently following acute pneumonia, which is common in cases of H5N1 infection.

The H5N1 virus was discovered in wild birds in Azerbaijan last month in an area along the Caspian Sea coast near Baku and has spread to the northeast and the southwest near the border with Iran, but it has not been confirmed in the district where the human fatalities occurred.

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