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Indonesia bird flu poultry death rate rises

Written by: Staff

JAKARTA, July 6 (Reuters) The poultry death rate from the H5N1 avian flu virus in Indonesia, the country with the most human bird flu deaths this year, is worsening, possibly due to poor vaccination coverage, a senior government official said today.

Mathur Riady, director-general of livestock production at the agriculture ministry, said one million fowl, half of them quail, died of bird flu in the first three months of 2006.

In 2005, deaths for the year as a whole were 1.2 million.

''Based on the data, there is a tendency of a rise in bird flu-related deaths in poultry. It may be caused by low vaccination coverage, particularly in small farms and backyard chickens,'' Riady told reporters.

''But it may also be because the reporting system on poultry deaths is getting better.'' The rise in poultry deaths caused by bird flu could increase international concern over Indonesia's effort to combat the virus, which according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) has killed 131 people across the globe since 2003.

In Indonesia, 40 people have died from the virus, endemic in poultry in nearly all the country's 33 provinces.

The government has so far shied away from mass culling, citing lack of funds and impracticality, with vaccination a preferred method to prevent the spread of bird flu among poultry.

Animal health experts say the large number of backyard farms and lack of resources are major impediments for effective vaccination in Indonesia, a sprawling country of 17,000 islands stretching across 5,000 kilometres.

It is common for households in the country to keep a handful of chickens in their yards for personal consumption or extra revenue.

The National Commission of Avian Flu Control and Preparedness estimates there are around 300 million such backyard chickens.

Riady said the agriculture ministry is holding a tender to buy 50 million vials of bird flu vaccine.

''The government has around 100 million vials but they are running out, so we are looking for addition of 50 million vials,'' he said.

The government will also expand door-to-door checks on poultry and birds -- which currently focus on the main island of Java -- to Sumatra and Bali, Riady said without elaborating.


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