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Indoneesia kontekstist

Poverty, forgotten diseases weigh heavily on Indonesia
Thu May 25, 2006 1:35 PM BST

By Tan Ee Lyn

JAKARTA (Reuters) - In a squatter settlement at the heart of central Jakarta, half a dozen Indonesian children play as a few scrawny chickens flit amongst them.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has killed 33 people in Indonesia -- and as many as seven in a single family in north Sumatra this month -- but Suhadi, 71, could not be less concerned.

"I have reared chickens for the last 40 years and never been sick. We have traditional medicine and herbs," said Suhadi, who brought up his 11 children selling drinks from his ramshackle hut. He also supplements his income selling eggs and chickens.

His family kept more than 30 chickens until two months ago, when the government began cleaning up the city's backyard poultry. Although officials promised to pay 5,000 rupiah for every chicken turned in, Suhadi and his wife Hapsah gave most of their birds away to relatives. They are now left with six.

"I was very sad to give them away. It's always sad to see them killed because of bird flu," Hapsah said.

Since the H5N1 made its first known jump to humans in Hong Kong in 1997, experts stress the best solution is to separate poultry from people. But that is far easier said than done.

Nearly 10 years on, 60 percent of China's estimated 14 billion chicken population and 30 percent of Indonesia's one billion are still kept in the backyards of homes, free to roam and play with children -- out of simple economic necessity.

"We are poor. We sell some of our chickens sometimes, and sometimes, we eat them," said Hapsah, who says an egg fetches 1,000 rupiah and a hen as much as 35,000 rupiah.


Experts are now probing if there might have been occurrences of limited human-to-human transmission in the Sumatran family cluster, the largest to date.

This has spooked financial markets even though scientific evidence has shown that the virus has not mutated into one that can spread easily among people -- a necessary precursor to a pandemic possibly happening.

But in Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 17,000 islands where more than half of its 220 million population live on less than $2 a day, there are far weightier problems to worry about -- and poverty is but one.

"What I want to put into perspective is an estimated 300 people die everyday from tuberculosis, 2,000 children die everyday of acute respiratory infections, 30,000 people die annually from malaria, do people even bat an eyelid?," said Firdosi Mehta, acting representative of the World Health Organization in Indonesia.

The country was rocked last year when polio, which had been absent for 10 years, suddenly made a comeback.

"An importation took place from Nigeria due to migrant workers, Haj travelers. It came into Indonesia, very close to Jakarta and spread to several provinces. Up till now we have 304 confirmed polio cases in the country," Mehta said.

"The routine immunization program was very deficient in some areas. There were pockets of unimmunized children which let the virus come in and spread widely in such a large country."

International health agencies and the government have since conducted five nationwide vaccination programs to try to interrupt the transmission of the wild polio virus. But authorities would have to monitor for the next six months to see if the efforts are successful.

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