Indonesia claimed a major victory in the fight against bird flu yesterday, saying the heart of the capital had been cleared of backyard fowl and that residents elsewhere were handing in chickens for slaughter.
But poultry could still be seen roaming freely in suburban neighborhoods and some people hid pet birds in their homes, raising doubts the campaign would prevent further human deaths in the country hardest hit by the virus.
"I can guarantee there are no backyard birds in Central Jakarta," said Muhayat, the mayor, who uses a single name. "The people here are now fully aware of the disease and voluntarily culled their birds."
Indonesia has tallied 63 human deaths from bird flu, nearly a third of the world's total. It came under criticism for failing to crack down on bird flu when it first appeared nearly four years ago, but has since taken more concerted steps to stamp out H5N1.
Governor Sutiyoso said he was pleased with progress so far in Jakarta, where owners have voluntarily slaughtered some 100,000 domestic chickens, racing pigeons and ducks in the last few weeks -- around a tenth of the estimated number in the capital.
"People have to choose between the lives of their loved ones and the lives of their pets," he said, adding that from this point forward authorities will show no tolerance for backyard birds or fowl in Jakarta.
"Any found running loose will be killed," he said. "We have to cut the chain of transmission."
The H5N1 virus has prompted the slaughter of millions of birds across Asia since late 2003, and caused the deaths of at least 164 people worldwide, according to the WHO.
Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said yesterday that Indonesia was considering naming bird flu a national disaster -- a step that would mean money from the state budget's disaster fund could be spent on fighting it.
The effectiveness of the slaughter campaign remained to be seen, amid fears that corrupt and underpaid officials may be susceptible to bribes or could simply stop enforcing the regulations.
And Lulu Anisa, 32, said that while her chickens were seized by officials and culled yesterday, "many residents managed to hide their birds."
Meanwhile, bird flu claimed its first human victim in Africa's most-populous nation, killing a young Nigerian woman due to graduate from university and be married this year, officials and the victim's fiance said on Wednesday.
The Jan. 17 death of the woman in Lagos, a teeming city where chickens and other fowl are kept in close quarters with humans, is a worrisome development in a vast nation with poor health care systems and weak government oversight.
The victim, whose name was not released by the Information Ministry, was finishing her accounting degree and got engaged last month, her fiance said.
"She was a young girl, full of life, looking forward to this year," said the fiance who asked not to be named, so that his loved one's family could grieve in peace.
"For the last two weeks, I've been lost," the 25-year-old financial consultant said. "If they find a cure, I hope they name it after her."
An outbreak of H5N1 bird flu hit Nigeria last year, but no human infections had been reported until Wednesday. Until the Nigerian report, Egypt and Djibouti were the only African countries that had confirmed infections among people. Eleven people have died in Egypt.
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