Australian officials set for bird flu talks in Jakarta

Australia's foreign minister said Tuesday that Indonesia is not yet capable of responding to a bird flu pandemic in humans, as Australian health officials prepared for talks in Jakarta on helping Indonesia deal with the threat.

Bird flu has killed at least 65 people in Southeast Asia since it began sweeping through poultry populations in 2003, including six in Indonesia. All the human deaths have come as a result of contact with sick birds, but officials worry that the virus could mutate into a form able to spread among humans and spark a pandemic that could kill millions.

"If the bird flu was to mutate ... in Indonesia ... it would be an enormous problem," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters Tuesday.

"You need rapid identification and rapid response in those circumstances and they are a long way short of being able to do that effectively," he added.

The Australian officials will meet senior Indonesian government officials as well as officials from the World Health Organization and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization this week, Downer said.

"These talks are going to involve discussions with both the health and agriculture ministers and look for ways of very substantially strengthening Indonesia's capacity to deal with avian flu," Downer said.

Canberra announced last week that it would share with its poorer Asian neighbors its stockpile of a key anti-viral drug in the event of a bird flu pandemic in humans.

A donation of 50,000 courses of oseltamivir, commercially known as Tamiflu, are due to arrive in Indonesia this week and will be distributed to 44 specialized bird flu hospitals, Downer said.

Health authorities warn up to 150 million people could die in a human flu pandemic if the bird virus mutated, reports the AP.


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