14th November 2005
Vaccination of poultry takes priority over humans
As a physician and veterinarian, Mangku Sitepoe
is active in his two areas of expertise in animal and human health. The former
member of the Veterinary Public Commission of the Ministry of Agriculture has
also written several articles about bird flu issues. He shared his views and
knowledge with The Jakarta Post's Kornelius Purba about the
Question: The government is very slow in containing
the bird flu virus and the public also seem indifferent. What is really going
Answer: Bird flu cases had actually been found in
August 2003, but the government announced it only on Jan. 24, 2004, which was
followed by the government's decision that bird flu had become a pandemic. But
because it only affected poultry farms people just did not care. The voice of
the veterinarians was unheard. Only when the virus spread and infected humans
then people suddenly woke up.
This disease belongs to the zoonosis category,
which means it can spread from animals to humans.
There are two patients here: Animals and humans.
And there are two authorities here: First the health and medical authorities for
humans through physicians and the veterinary authorities for the animals. These
two authorities must work closely.
Do you mean that only humans are getting attention?
People are scared because the disease has affected
humans. But actually we must find the root and the source of the problem. We
must prioritize the animals. But it does not happen like that. We only treat
humans while it is extremely important to treat the source of the disease. Bird
flu has claimed seven lives but people do not realize that about 15 millions
chickens have died from the virus.
What does the government have to do then?
We must stop the transmission from poultry to
humans, that is the first step. After that we must prepare to treat humans. We
should not buy the vaccine first for humans but for poultry.
Why does the government not conduct a mass cull?
There are several reasons. When bird flu of sub
type H5N1 spread in Hong Kong and killed six people local authorities culled
about two million chickens. But in 1999 and in 2003 the disease returned. That
was why when I was with the commission we recommended not to cull poultry. In
early 2004 it had affected eight provinces. How could we stamp it out totally?
It is impossible to cull about 400 million chickens. In addition we also do not
have the funds. Now the situation is even worse where 22 provinces have been
affected. What we can do is only selective culling. We must make an early
What has the government done to stop the pandemic?
The Ministry of Agriculture, in this case the
Directorate General of Husbandry has taken four measures: Vaccination, selective
culling, bio-security and surveillance. It has shown a declining trend as of May
this year. We have been quite successful with the vaccination program, although
it is not aimed at preventing the disease but just to halt it. According to
research, however, we are still facing problems with backyard farming where
humans have very close contact with their chickens. We need to educate the
But WHO opposes the vaccination policy, doesn't it?
Yes, until now, WHO does not agree at all with
vaccination. Why? The world body is now worried about the mutation of the bird
flu from humans to humans. When the disease outbreak is so widespread, which is
called virus reassortment in poultry, then it may infect humans and then from
one human to another. This is the third of six phases to become a pandemic. WHO
worries about this. Culling is WHO's preference, especially in anticipation of
the rainy season.
Do we have previous experience in handling such a
I myself was involved in 1983 when then president
Soeharto instructed a total culling of cows at any cost when foot-and-mouth
disease spread here. Farmers received compensation and at that time Australia
helped us financially. What I mean is we need strong leadership. And it worked
at that time and since then we are free of the disease.
Why has the government refused foreign assistance
I just don't know. In my view we must accept the
assistance. There is nothing wrong in it, it is not interference by foreign
countries. The most important thing is that we use it with accountability and
effectively. This disease is not only the concern of the Indonesian people but
people all over the world.