Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Indonesia: simmering or boiling?

With the deaths of two young girls (ages 2 and 5), the Indonesian alarm bells are ringing more loudly. WaPo reports ten more hospitalized with high fever, bird flu suspected (numbers of hospitalized patients differ in various news reports). TimesOnline says some of the hospitalized cases come from rural areas where poultry farming is prevalent. But they report also a 9 year old girl who died after visiting the zoo. Her death seems not included in the other reports, so it is unclear what the current toll is. If zoo visitor case is accurate, combined with the reports of infections in a zoo guide and food vendor, it suggests transmission from birds has suddenly become much more efficient.

The Indonesian reluctance to start mass killing of infected chicken flocks has allegedly been reversed:
"If we declare one area highly infected, we are going to do a mass slaughter," the Minister of Agriculture, Anton Apriyantono, said.

"We haven’t identified the high-intensive areas but once it is done then there will be [a mass cull]. According to the President, funds will not be a problem - if it needs to be done then we will do it with all our resources." (Times Online)
So it seems they haven't started yet and won't until they identify a "high-intensive" area. In other words, hurry up, slowly.

And find someone to blame. There has already been a bureaucratic sacrificial lamb (undoubtedly not an innocent one). The ministry's Director of Animal Health has been dismissed for failing to control the outbreak. (AP) Indonesia's lack of vigor is most certainly the fault of its top leaders and the Director of Animal Health is taking the fall. But swine are also infected in Indonesia and possibly many other species. It is unlikely there was ever any hope of containing this outbreak.

The public state of denial of the health ministry may have contributed to delayed recognition of what appears to be a developing epidemic. The viral pot is not just simmering. It is giving the appearance of boiling over.