City in Dark on Lack of Bird Flu Info

Despite a tangible threat of bird-flu transmission from neighboring Vietnam and Thailand where 18 deaths have been confirmed so far, the Jakarta administration is not taking sufficient preventive measures. Residents of the nation's capital say the Jakarta Health Agency's information campaign is half-baked – it does not reach all the city's residents and it fails to provide the true facts behind bird flu – for instance, many Jakarta residents continue to buy live poultry thinking it is safer than buying processed chickens, although the World Health Organization (WHO) has said bird flu might transmit to humans through direct contact with live, infected chickens. While the administration claims it has made an effort to inform the public, residents say it is simply not doing enough to counter such an imminent health hazard. – YaleGlobal

City in Dark on Lack of Bird Flu Info

Damar Harsanto
Monday, February 9, 2004

Despite the wide media coverage on the outbreak of avian influenza, or bird flu, many Jakartans are relatively uninformed on the contagious disease due to a lack of a public health and information campaign by the Jakarta administration.

Instead of reaching out to residents with complete and accurate information on the disease via a direct campaign, the Jakarta Health Agency told The Jakarta Post on Saturday that it relied on its officers at community health centers and hospitals to disseminate information to the public.

"We have gathered our officials from community health centers and hospitals to tell them about the outbreak... Besides, we have continued informing the public on the dangers of bird flu and measures to contain the outbreak on radio and television," said agency spokeswoman Evy Zelvino.

She admitted that the agency had no other outreach plans.

The agency appears not to have considered the fact that not all of the capital's eight million residents visit community health centers or hospitals regularly.

"I have lived in the city for more than six years, but honestly, I've never visited a community health center. I seldom go to the hospital unless I am really sick," said Maria, 28, from Karet, Central Jakarta.

The health agency has only distributed 10,000 leaflets on the symptoms and prevention of bird flu to community health centers around the city. It advises the people to cook chicken meat and eggs properly -- at temperatures of above 80 degrees Celsius for meat and above 60 degrees for eggs -- to prevent infection.

Evy said the health agency had cooperated with the City Animal Husbandry, Fishery an Maritime Affairs Agency to conduct a health campaign for workers who have daily, direct contact with chickens at farms, including the use of masks and disinfectants.

However, the limited outreach of information has left many residents poorly informed on the dangers and prevention of bird flu.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised against buying live chickens at open markets, many Jakartans continue to do so, arguing that they would be more convinced by the healthy appearance of live chickens -- as opposed to slaughtered and plucked chickens -- that the poultry were bird-flu free.

Most Jakartans seem to be unaware that processed meats are safer than live chickens.

WHO has said that the H5N1 virus, the only strain of bird flu known to be fatal to humans, might transmit to humans through direct contact with live, infected chickens. The bird flu toll has risen to 18 in Thailand and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, the city health agency said there had been no reports so far that any Jakartan had contracted the virus.

Veterinarian Agus Lelana, spokesman of the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, said on Sunday that the government should have taken a comprehensive measure by tightening poultry imports to prevent the possible spread of the virus.

Agus said the Indonesian Veterinarian Association had recommended the government to set up a national quarantine body for animals and plants to prevent any viruses from spreading, but that this had not been implemented.

© The Jakarta Post