Indonesia hospitals struggle to prepare for bird flu


  • World
  • Wednesday, 30 Nov 2005

By Tomi Soetjipto and Ade Rina

JAKARTA (Reuters) - From a shortage of anti-viral drugs to ventilators, Indonesian hospitals designated by the government to treat bird flu patients are struggling to get ready for a possible pandemic. 

Indonesia has appointed 44 hospitals across the world's fourth most populous country to take care of bird flu patients, with that number expected to more than double to 100. 

But years of economic crisis have taken their toll on the health system, leaving hospitals short of funds and resources, let alone being ready for a disease that could infect countless numbers in the impoverished country of 220 million people. 

Halid Saleh, head of team of doctors to treat bird flu patients at the Wahidin Sudirohusodo hospital in the eastern city of Makassar, said they had prepared two isolation rooms with two beds each to handle patients. 

But there were no ventilators, monitors or emergency support equipment for the rooms because they were needed for intensive care units, he said. 

"Officials from the Health Ministry paid us a visit last month. We have made list on what we needed. But so far, nothing has been sent yet," said Saleh. 

However, some stocks of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu had arrived a few days ago, he added. 

Indonesia has had seven confirmed deaths from the H5N1 strain of bird flu and five cases where patients lived. 

Bird flu has killed 68 people in Asia since late 2003. There are fears it could mutate into a form that could pass from person to person, sparking a global pandemic that could kill millions. 

Some state hospitals in Indonesia are not well equipped to handle any disease outbreak. Last year hospitals in Jakarta were overwhelmed with patients during a surge in dengue fever cases. 

And few Indonesians have private health insurance that would enable to seek better treatment at private hospitals. 

The Zainal Abidin public hospital in Banda Aceh was badly damaged by the Dec. 26 tsunami that smashed into Aceh province. 

It has since become operational and is now preparing for another potential disaster. 

Rus Munandar, director at the hospital, said they have prepared one isolation room for nine patients. 

"We have prepared wards, respirators, ready-to-use equipment and Tamiflu and other medication. We have prepared specialists, including four lung doctors," he said. 

"We just hope the number (of patients) will not reach the numbers in Jakarta." 

DECEMBER DEADLINE 

Most of the confirmed and suspected cases of bird flu patients in Indonesia have been in or around Jakarta. 

But the virus has been detected among poultry in two-thirds of Indonesia's 33 provinces. 

Despite the problems, Farid Husain, the director-general for medical services at the Health Ministry, said most designated hospitals were ready to face a bird flu pandemic. 

"We are ready since the government has declared this an extraordinary event, ready in the physical sense and in human resources," Husain told Reuters. 

He said the government aimed to furnish all designated hospitals with the necessary equipment by the end of December. 

Indonesia has also said it would begin making the anti-viral drug Tamiflu in three to five months. 

The country currently has 800,000 tablets of Tamiflu, or enough for 80,000 people. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said he wanted to be able to cover 11 percent of the population. 

Despite the fears of a pandemic and the possible risk to themselves, hospital officials vowed to stay on the job. 

"We don't have orders to flee if there is an outbreak," said lung doctor Winaryani, at the Soetomo hospital in Indonesia's second largest city, Surabaya. 

"Where is our conscience as doctors if we did such a thing." 

(Additional reporting by Achmad Sukarsono in JAKARTA and Heri Retnowati in SURABAYA) 

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