Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Indonesia: international experts converge

The Indonesian health authorities seem scared and close to panic, even as they reassure everyone not to panic. Health Minister Siti Fadila Supari is now retracting an earlier statement that the country was experiencing an epidemic, saying only that "if things worsen it could become an epidemic" (BBC quoting an AP report). Earlier she had said, "This could be called... an epidemic. It will likely claim more victims because the source is not clear." Sounds like the higher-ups are reigning her in. Wouldn't want people to be unduly alarmed. Or even appropriately alarmed.

One of the probable bird flu cases (of six reported so far) has now died, a five year old girl who reportedly had been in contact with dead chickens. Sales of poultry in the country have plummeted. Indonesia has been reluctant to carry out the kind of mass culling of their infected poultry stocks recommended by WHO, primarily because of lack of funds. They now say they will carry out culls, regardless of cost. We'll see. Much of the poultry population is in small, backyard units, making control more difficult, but not impossible. The Health Ministry, using extraordinary powers declared earlier this week, has the authority to forcibly hospitalize suspected bird flu cases, using one of 44 state hospitals designated for the purpose.

Reading between the lines, it is clear that there is deep concern at WHO and even at CDC.
"It's obvious that a pandemic will occur, all the conditions are in place," WHO director general Lee Jong-Wook said on Monday. "The problem now is time." (AFP)
CDC sent a five-person team that arrived on Sunday on a "fact finding mission" and Reuters reports that other international experts are converging on Jakarta.
"Definitely the whole international community is very much present," [WHO representative George] Petersen told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The WHO was also working with the government to source new stocks of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu from India to bolster local stocks, he said.

"It's not very much, it's rather puny. They definitely need some more," Petersen said, adding that stocks being rushed from India were less than 1,000 doses.


Supari said Indonesia had 10,000 Tamiflu tablets. (Reuters)
Maybe the most ominous sign here in Europe is that even CNN International devoted a full 10 seconds to the Indonesian situation before returning to the more important business of supermodel Kate Moss's alleged cocaine use.