I make no secret of my disdain for the Indonesian Health Minister Mdm. Supari and her actions and policies regarding Indonesian samples of H5N1. Yesterday a "voice" from Indonesia was heard.
This from the Jakarta Post:
Emmy Fitri, Jakarta
People will do so much to be called a hero, even if it's too late or way too early to be one. That's a dreadful afterthought having read an interview in the journal Nature with Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari.
In the interview, published online on Dec. 19, Siti explained why Indonesia has persistently refused to share its H5N1 virus samples with the WHO until it is assured of a vaccine supply in the event of a pandemic.
She was quoted as saying "Indonesia is open to international collaboration but this must be fair, transparent and equitable. The WHO's Global Influenza Surveillance Network system is obviously unfair and opaque. Samples shared become the property of the WHO collaborating centers in rich countries, where they are used to generate research papers, patents and to commercialize vaccines. But the developing countries that supply the samples do not share in these benefits."
With those strong words against the world, are we off the hook simply because we are be poor and bear the huge burden of a population over 220 million? Are we excused for being ungrateful after so long relying on the generosity of donors and international agencies in fighting diseases, including the big three -- AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria?
Most of all, is it the right time to challenge a long-standing protocol after decades of compliance? Why now? Why not 10 or 20 years ago, or next year?
By and large, are we really aiming at contributing to a better world by stubbornly holding the samples with one hand while the other hand fumbles about so clumsily for international aid?
Isn't it natural that if we want to fly, we cannot just wait for angels to lend us wings? We have to learn how to make aircraft. There is so much to be done to show the world that we are not so poor and needy.
Preventing more deaths by educating the public about proper poultry handling is the top concern. Unlike diplomacy and politics, viruses don't discriminate. It is just irrelevant to bring up a political perspective in the name of the nation's dignity. The minister could have better used a little politics to butter up parliament members and provincial and regental officials in order to get more funds and resources to battle the virus.
A tropical country, Indonesia is a hotbed for germs, viruses and bacteria. Yet people show scant awareness of good sanitary practices. They are not the only ones to blame for their ignorance, since apparently the government's development and education programs have not yet picked up on the fact that we are all living with lots of microbes.
Not only is there no effort to translate the threat of disease into public policies and educational content, but generally speaking, health issues are treated as second-class.
It's not surprising that Indonesia is so dependent on the private sector and the international community' generosity in containing diseases, even those endemic to this country. It stems from the government's failure to prioritize money and strategies to strengthen the health sector.
Globally, bird flu has vaulted into the limelight because of fears that the H5N1 virus could mutate so that it can be transmitted from human to human, thus laying the groundwork for a pandemic.
The 1918 flu virus caused one of the worst pandemics in human history. It's frightening to think how quickly a disease spread through a cough or handshake might travel today, as people fly from one continent to another at the drop of a hat.
To imagine a pandemic hitting Indonesia -- heaven forbid -- is unbearable.
Do we need human vaccines in a time of pandemic? Even if we do, the global production capacity, currently estimated at less than 500 million doses per year, will never meet the need.
A down-to-earth effort which is less costly than waging war against the world must be devised. As recommended in the December Ministerial Meeting in New Delhi, non-pharmaceutical measures must be pursued vigorously.
If anything has to be politicized, let's use political diplomacy to convince state officials that the threat is real and people's lives at stake because of their ignorance.
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.
How refreshing. It is also only one voice to counter HM Mdm. Supari and her fanning of Nationalist flames that have included blunt statements that H5N1 is a creation of the West, and specifically, the US.