Warned-Off Bali

Intending visitors to our island had even more cause to worry about their holiday this week when alerts were issued over a potential new health outbreak: Legionnaire’s disease, a bacterial infection that can be fatal and that has reportedly struck down 10 Australians who became ill after returning home from Bali.

Health chief Nyoman Sutedja told the Australian authorities this week, following a request from the Australian Consulate-General in Denpasar, that so far there was no evidence of Legionnaire’s in Bali but that further checks were being carried out, with suspicion falling on hotels in Kuta that are failing to maintain adequate sanitary standards.

That wasn’t enough to prevent the Australians from issuing a travel alert for Bali to its citizens, saying: “Indonesian health authorities and the World Health Organisation are aware of the problem and are investigating possible sources of outbreak.”

It is of particular concern that Legionnaire’s, identified in the US in 1976, develops in warm-water environments such as plumbing and air-conditioning, and is contracted through inhalation; the mortality rate can be as high as 50 percent. Many low-cost “Melati”-class establishments in Bali provide substandard facilities including bathroom services. Tap water in Bali, and indeed around the country, is not suitable for human consumption – too many visitors can testify to this inadequacy, alas – but beyond that, failure to service and clean water systems is a major health issue, not only for Legionnaire’s disease but also for endemic diseases such as dengue fever, whose virus resides in water-hatching mosquitoes.

The Health Department must immediately launch a check of all small-hotel operators in Bali, particularly around the Kuta area, a favourite of budget-holiday Australians. It must ensure that those who are in breach of hygiene regulations are forced to close if they do not immediately – to a near deadline – act to ensure the health and safety of their guests. The Bali Hotels Association, which represents primarily the international sector of the industry, is taking steps of its own to ensure adequate maintenance is done and world-standard checks applied. 

Bali is in the midst of a virulent outbreak of rabies that has claimed more than 120 lives in two years. Amid a disastrously hopeless campaign to vaccinate the primary carrier of the virus, street dogs, instead of drastically cutting back their massive numbers, human deaths will continue, thus causing immense harm to Bali’s international reputation.

On a more local level, Governor I Made Mangku Pastika has ordered the closure of illegal roadside bordellos operating under the guise of cafés and frequented by Balinese and other Indonesians as Bali’s HIV infection rate soars, placing our island among the top AIDS regions in the country. This directive must be enforced by the authorities to ensure they are made to shut down.

We have been hit by serious global health crises in the recent past, among them SARS and swine flu. Our current emergencies are peculiar to Bali, and that should make them eminently easier to deal with. Failure to act could result in a swift downturn in visitor numbers at a time when they are at a record high.

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