JAKARTA Indonesia's decision to report bird flu
cases in humans only every six months, rather than immediately,
is irresponsible and could lead to delays in containing
outbreaks of the disease, a scientist said on Friday.
Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari, who has clashed with
the international community and United States over her handling
of health issues, on Thursday said her ministry had changed its
policy and would only report cases every six months.
She did not say whether that reporting policy also included
the World Health Organization (WHO). But a health ministry
official said on Friday that the ministry had not decided yet
whether it would report to the WHO every one, two, or three
"It's a drawback," said Gusti Ngurah Mahardika, a bird flu
researcher at Bali's Udayana University.
"It's an obligation (to report) not only every day, but
every minute if there's a new development. If they only report
to WHO every six months, it will be too late to recognize if
there's a new development towards a pandemic."
WHO officials in Geneva said they are still seeking
confirmation of the new policy.
With 108 confirmed human fatalities from bird flu,
Indonesia has the highest toll of any nation. Since the virus
resurfaced in Asia in late 2003, it has killed 241 people in a
dozen countries, according to the WHO.
Supari has attracted criticism from the international
community for her stance on sharing bird flu samples.
Officials in Indonesia have said they want to ensure equal
access to any vaccines that are made against bird flu, but U.S.
Health Secretary Michael Leavitt said in April after visiting
Jakarta that Indonesia also wanted payments.
The United States and Indonesia are also locked in a
dispute over the future of a U.S. naval lab in Jakarta, mainly
over virus transfers and the number of U.S. staff allowed to
have diplomatic status.
International health experts say it is vital to have access
to samples of the constantly mutating H5N1 virus, which they
fear could change into a form easily transmissible among humans
and sweep the world in months, killing millions of people.
"We are obliged to report to WHO, we are also obliged to
report it to the public," said Nyoman Kandun, director-general
of communicable diseases at the health ministry, adding that
the new policy was meant as a better way to "package" the
Indonesia so far has maintained its decision not to share
bird flu samples, saying it wants guarantees from richer
nations and drugmakers that poor countries would get access to
affordable vaccines developed from their samples.
(Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Sara Webb and