Fears of bird flu pandemic
remain as donations dry

The number of countries and institutions donating money to combat bird flu has decreased over the past three years despite suggestions the disease still poses a real and immediate threat.

Head of the National Committee for Bird Flu Control and Pandemic Preparedness, Bayu Krisnamurthi, said in Jakarta on Wednesday that 35 countries and institutions had pledged to donate money to combat the disease during a bird flu conference in Beijing in January 2006, but that only 17 had actually made donations at the Bamako conference in December of the same year.

Only nine institutions made donations a year later in December 2007 during the New Delhi conference, and six donated in the Oct. 24-26 Sixth International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza in Cairo.

Bayu said the decline in the number of donations had forced Indonesia to cover a budget deficit.

"Between 2006 and 2008, donors committed to donate up to US$2.7 billion to finance the containment of bird flu. However, the deficit for the period reached $1.2 billion," he said in a press conference on the results of the Cairo conference.

He said that so far only 73 percent of the money donated over the three-year period had been disbursed.

Most countries cover such deficits using state money, Bayu said, adding that Indonesia had done the same.

He said Indonesia received $120 million for its bird flu control project between 2006 and 2008, including money submitted by foreign or international institutions operating in the country.

The amount covered about 50 percent of what was spent on the effort over the period, said Bayu, who is also deputy minister for agriculture and maritime at the Coordinating Ministry for the Economy.

"We're not worried about the impacts of the declining number of donors. The government is committed to continually combating bird flu," he said.

The Cairo conference reported declines in the number of confirmed human fatalities resulting from infection since 2007.

Since the first human was diagnosed with the disease in 2004, there have been 383 cases of human infection resulting in 241 fatalities world wide.

In Indonesia, the figures stand at 137 and 112, respectively. The decline in infection cases in Indonesia is the result of a campaign to raise awareness on how to avoid infection, especially among children, who are most prone to catch it, Bayu said.

As an example, he cited the results of a recent survey conducted by the bird flu committee on 1,700 students in Greater Jakarta which found the number of school children who washed their hands before eating had increased to 68 percent in 2008 from 37 percent last year.

The number of children who reminded their parents to thoroughly cook poultry before serving it increased to 92 percent from 57 percent; and the number of children who did not come into physical contact with poultry rose to 66 percent from 23 percent.

"Children play a strategic role in the control of the spread of bird flu. These changes show the community's active role in reducing the number of bird flu infections," Bayu said.

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