With more chickens testing positive in Bali this week for the H5N1 bird flu virus, following reported cases last week, this deadly disease is resurgent when it was thought it had been eradicated after a global outbreak in 2006 that hit Indonesia harder than any other country.
World Health Organization records since 2003 show that Indonesia had the highest number of H5N1 infections, at 175, and also had the highest death toll, at 144, of a total of 535 cases worldwide of which 316 were fatal.
This threat to human life on our island adds to the two-year battle against rabies that continues to claim lives and will not be brought under control until our streets are rid of the infestation of stray dogs that vector the virus.
Both health emergencies have come about because of an entire lack of control over animal populations in our midst. We only have to cast our memories back to the swine flu epidemic of recent years that began in parts of China where pigs were kept close proximity to people’s dwellings, a practice that is customary in Balinese homes with chickens, who are given free reign to wander about, just as with the stray-dog problem.
If this risky situation is to change, to provide security of health for Bali’s residents, an alteration of cultural habits needs to happen. People must be made to realise – via village-to-village educational roadshows conducted by the government – that no longer can it be acceptable for animals to wander in our midst, given the health threat they pose when numbers become uncontrollable. Responsibility is on the people, and enforcement of bylaws outlawing hazards such as strays is the authorities’ task. On neither side is any tangible action being taken, however.
The previous H5N1 outbreak was tamed in Indonesia by a mass culling of chickens across the country, including Bali, and the same needs to happen now wherever there are suspect flocks, birds that suddenly and apparently inexplicably become ill. The Animal Husbandry Departments of all provinces need to send their officers into the field now, to tell villagers of the real risk of cohabiting with animals, and that includes permitting dogs to roam freely. It is a two-pronged approach that will remedy these dangers and remove the threats.
Collectively we can make this happen.