A Clean-Up Is Required

The latest threat to human health in Bali, the resurgence of deadly bird flu, has claimed three lives in the past week, those of a Bangli mother and her two children. It comes as Bali continues to deal with an ongoing outbreak of rabies that has killed at least 130 people in the past two years, and follows a string of recent health emergencies including swine flu.

It is not surprising that Bali is failing to keep a lid on the re-emergence of these diseases, because there exists a laissez-faire approach in which there is little – or no – concern about the inherent health risks of living among animals, be they chickens wandering freely around houses and yards or the army of stray dogs that no one will take responsibility for.

Health officials are now worried about the impact that the bird flu deaths will have on the island’s economy, which is largely powered by tourism, domestic and foreign. No one wants to holiday in a place where you might not only become seriously ill but could possibly die.

And so this week we were hearing the usual worried voices from officials about fighting avian influenza, by vaccinating birds, educating people and ensuring premises where flocks are kept are clean. But as with the ongoing rabies calamity, the real root of the problem is not being tackled.

In the case of the hundreds of thousands of stray dogs roaming the island and posing an immense threat to human health – one that is not limited to rabies alone, when traffic and other accidents are considered – based on logic, the huge number tells us that removing all or most of them, rather than merely inoculating part of the island-wide pack, is the only real solution.

Bird flu deaths, as before, are happening where people are in direct contact with chickens that may or may not be exhibiting signs of sickness. The Bali Animal Husbandry Department, which is already heavily engaged in the dog-vaccination project, must send its regency officials in every part of the island to the rural and urban homes where chickens are kept and whose human inhabitants must be ordered, through whatever means – the introduction of a gubernatorial decree if necessary – to keep fowl in contained areas.

Isolation and removal, to fit the circumstance, is the most effective way we can ensure that these rolling health crises come to an end.

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