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Wet markets must be cleaned up to fight bird flu JAKARTA - Cleaning up Indonesia's popular wet markets and shifting live birds to separate sanitary locations is a crucial first step in the nation's fight against the deadly bird flu virus, an expert said. Indonesia became the nation worst affected by the H5N1 virus this week, with 44 confirmed human deaths, putting its efforts to combat bird flu under the international spotlight.

Marthen Malole, a renegade virologist who revealed in 2004 that Jakarta had tried to cover up the existence of H5N1 for months, said the markets, where the vast majority of Indonesians shop for meat, needed to be tackled as a priority. "Culling is wrong," he said, referring to Indonesia's limited efforts to slaughter chickens in affected areas. "In Hong Kong they cleaned markets and got results -- they don't have any more cases," he told AFP, adding that most fatal cases in Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, had contracted the virus at markets.

Malole, who headed the virology laboratory at the nation's leading agricultural university in Bogor and is now a consultant, said the world's first lab-confirmed human-to-human transmission of the virus may have started at a wet market. "If you see the case in Karo, it was spread by a woman who sold vegetables at the market," he said. The cluster of seven deaths in North Sumatra's Karo district triggered alarm among scientists, with the infections raising the spectre of a dangerous viral mutation that may have permitted efficient transmission among people.

Such a development would bring the world closer to a human flu pandemic with the potential to kill millions. In the end, the slight mutation that took place was determined to be insignificant. Since 2004, authorities have killed almost 29 million chickens, including 5.93 million belonging to backyard and small-scale farmers, while 260 million birds have been vaccinated, the government said on Tuesday.

But Malole alleged vaccinations of backyard chickens were not taking place to the extent claimed by local officials across the vast nation of some 17,000 islands. "It's difficult to capture the chickens and (civil servants) only get a little bit of money for the vaccination," he said, adding that many communities were also opposed to the measure. A lack of government coordination was another overall obstacle in the bird flu fight, he charged: "We're not serious about it and the concept of a strategy is not clear."

Bayu Krishnamurthi from the national committee for avian influenza control, said that the government had begun to clean up local markets -- but said only 104 had been counted as being sanitised, a tiny number of the total. "It's not simple if we clean the markets, because sometimes the markets cannot be used for some time," he told AFP.

No power to enforce

Mushny Suatmotjo, the director animal health in the department of agriculture, said cleaning up markets and preventing the sale of live chickens was part of the department's strategy. "We are cleaning up places that are hot spots for the virus, such as markets that sell chickens, and we have asked all markets to close for one day a week so they can be disinfected," he said.

Indonesia's recently decentralised government however means Jakarta is only able to recommend such measures -- and has no power to enforce them, he conceded. "Every month we send out recommendations to every local district in Indonesia asking them to do this, but we don't know who has," he told AFP. Indonesia's estimated 300 million chickens owned by households or small-scale farmers were the most difficult to monitor and control, he said. "I advocate that backyard chickens be put in coops and people clean the cages every week, but this is a problem for poor people," Suatmotjo added.


Related blog entries (category 'Bird Flu') Related blog entries (category 'Bird Flu'):
09 August 2006 · Indonesian boy has bird flu, local tests
24 July 2006 · Indonesia faces obstacles in eradicating bird flu
24 July 2006 · Lone Indonesia bird flu survivor goes home
21 July 2006 · 54th case of bird flu confirmed
14 July 2006 · Indonesia bird flu toll hits 41


Posted in Bird Flu @ 10 August 2006 13:22 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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