UN helps Indonesia set up rapid response teams to control spread of bird flu

26 July 2007 – Without involving rural communities in the fight against bird flu, Indonesia will not be able to control the highly contagious disease, which has ravaged millions of poultry and already killed more humans in the archipelago than anywhere else in the world, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

In an effort to control the H5N1 virus, which experts fear could spark a lethal global human pandemic, FAO has helped to train teams of local veterinarians and para-veterinarians in participatory disease surveillance and response (PDS/R) techniques in a country that numbers 240 million people spread over 6,000 islands.

“Almost four years after the first outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Indonesia and more than 80 human deaths, there is still an urgent need for community members to be involved in the detection and reporting of sick and dead poultry,” the agency said in an update.

Veterinarians and paravets are engaging community members, tapping into their local knowledge and involving them in control efforts. Villagers are also trained to detect and report bird flu cases in poultry and be responsible for their own safety and that of their families.

FAO is planning to extend the training of more PDS/R teams at local government level. “We will be expanding PDS/R further to cover Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua,” James McGrane, FAO Indonesia’s Avian Influenza Team Leader, said.

“There is no room for complacency: as long as the virus continues to circulate in Indonesia the risk to humans remains,” he added. “Indonesia still has a long way to go to control the H5N1 virus. But the country has taken a major step forward in promoting village disease surveillance and response.

“This could be a strategy that other affected countries might also want to consider. Working with local communities not only provides crucial data on how the disease is spreading but also mobilizes affected communities in Indonesia’s control efforts.”

Surveillance and response teams are currently operating in 168 out of the 444 districts. So far 1,200 officers have been trained. PDS/R capacity has been established in all districts of Java, and in the provinces of Bali, North Sumatra and Lampung, home to almost 70 per cent of the population. Provincial PDS/R capacity has also been established in all provinces of Kalimantan and Sulawesi.

“Villagers are like detectives in the field. They are directing us to areas where there are H5N1 outbreaks among poultry,” Ibu Azmiyati, a veterinarian with Tangerang district Livestock Services Department, said. “Without the help of the communities, we would be lost. There are simply too many backyard farmers and village households,” she said.

Around 60 per cent of all Indonesian households keep an estimated 300 million birds in their backyards.

To date, 319 people from a dozen countries have been infected with the virus, of whom 191 have died, nearly all of them believed to have been infected by poultry. But experts fear the virus could mutate to easy human-to-human transmission. The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920, which spread easily between humans, is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people.

Related Stories