Indonesia, US Team to Tackle Bird Flu

JAKARTA ~ American and Indonesian scientists have joined forces in a bid to halt the high number of bird flu deaths in the archipelago, a US official said.

US deputy undersecretary of agriculture Charles Lambert said the group would focus on stemming the spread of the virus in Indonesia’s poultry industry.

Lambert opened an office on Monday for the team, which consists of four local scientists and one from the US, plus support staff.

The group will conduct workshops for Indonesian health and animal husbandry officials and veterinarians to detect the virus and prevent its spread.

“Our primary role is working on bird health. Our focus is to improve the poultry industry in order to reduce the potential of human-to-human infection,” said Max Coats, a veterinarian who will head the office in Jakarta.

“If we can work well on the bird side, we hope you will face less (deaths) on the human side,” he told reporters.

Seventy four people have died in Indonesia from bird flu since June 2005 out of 94 confirmed infections.

Most cases have occurred after contact with sick birds. But scientists fear the deadly H5N1 strain could mutate and become easily transmissible among people, triggering a devastating human pandemic.

The government had hoped to eradicate bird flu deaths in 2007. It has banned the popular practice of keeping poultry in backyards in Jakarta to try and check the disease’s spread.

The US government has committed about US$24 million to combat bird flu in Indonesia since July 2005, the US embassy here said in a statement.

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