News - UN urges RI to anticipate bird flu pandemic
The United Nations (UN) urged Indonesia to prepare a contingency plan for the possibility of the avian influenza turning into a global pandemic, a senior UN official said.
UN systems senior coordinator for avian and human influenza David Nabarro said a pandemic of the H5N1 bird flu strain could occur at any time and any place and therefore urged the Indonesian government to start developing a plan for such an eventuality.
"It will happen at some point. Act as though a pandemic will start tomorrow. Don't assume we can wait around and not worry that it won't start in the next six months or one year. If we do, once it starts it will be too late to prepare and we will all will be in crisis," he said at a recent workshop on avian influenza pandemic contingency plans held at the Office of the Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare on Monday.
He warned that should there be a pandemic, it would threaten half the world's population as no medication would be able to stem the tide of illness.
"At that stage, the virus may be resistant to Tamiflu, so we can't rely on Tamiflu," he said, referring to the drug currently given to bird flu patients.
The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain remains a virus essentially in birds. However, scientists fear that it could mutate into a form that could pass easily from human to human.
The government said that as of July, the country was in phase three of the six phases of a flu pandemic, meaning there was the possibility of facing a new subtype of the virus.
There have been bird flu breakouts in Indonesia, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam since August 2003. To date, there have been nine confirmed bird flu deaths in Indonesia and more than 10 million poultry killed.
Nabarro stressed the danger of a poor response to the possibility of an outbreak and pointed out that the 1918 Spanish flu was caused by the H1N1 subtype virus and killed 40 million people across the globe.
"To cope with such a threat, we should prevent, prepare and respond," he said.
Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie said that the government had formulated a plan to control avian influenza and to cope with a possible flu pandemic.
"Among other things, in the near future we will set up an integrated and autonomous organization to do tangible work to prevent and cope with any flu pandemic," he said.
The "National Strategic Plan to Control Avian Influenza and Preparedness to Face a Influenza Pandemic, 2006-2008" proposal says the government will introduce more than a dozen strategies to control the bird flu, including organizing mass culls and poultry vaccinations as well as increasing the stockpile of antiviral drugs and organizing research on bird flu vaccines.
Should a pandemic occur, the government proposal says it will isolate areas in which 80 percent of the population is infected and will mobilize manpower, including soldiers and police officers, to help limit the pandemic spread.
However, Aburizal said he did not know how much money would be needed to finance the implementation of the plan.
"All we have at present is US$150 million, which was agreed upon during the last WHO meeting in Geneva, and the government will add another $10 to $20 million," he said, adding that international aid would be needed to support the government's drive.
Deputy to the State Minister of National Development Planning Dedi M. Masykur Riyadi, whose office drafted the proposal, said should all of the strategies be implemented, the government would need about Rp 15.7 trillion ($1.5 billion) from 2006 to 2008.
The Jakarta Post - UN urges RI to anticipate bird flu pandemic