Indonesia begins anti-bird flu campaign

Authorities kicked off an anti-bird flu campaign in Indonesia's teeming capital Friday, vowing to test tens of thousands of chickens and cull all birds within one kilometer of an outbreak.

Indonesia's Health Minister Siti Fadilla Supari said the country aimed to stockpile 7 million tablets of Tamiflu, one of the few drugs believed be effective in treating symptoms of bird flu in humans, by the end of the year. The country currently has 400,000 pills, she said. One course of the antiviral drug has 10 pills.

The government has budgeted around US$21.6 million ( Ђ 18 million) to purchase the drug from Swiss pharmaceutical maker Roche, she said.

Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyanto described it as a "war on bird flu," but it remained to be seen how effective the drive would be in stopping the spread of the H5N1 disease in Jakarta,  scene of most of Indonesia's human cases.

So far 19 people have died, all in the last nine months, the highest fatality rate in the world.

"Bird flu has now reached an alarming level," Apriyanto told government workers and vets who gathered outside city hall before fanning out across the capital.

The three-day campaign involving some 600 workers aims to test birds across the city of 12 million people, many of whom keep one or two chickens or songbirds in the their backyards.

Markets and poultry distribution centers also are packed with live chickens, ducks, doves and pet parrots, reports the AP.

I.L.