Tapping local knowledge in Indonesia to battle avian influenza
Villagers are key allies in virus detection and control
26 July 2007, Rome – Involving villagers in the fight against bird flu is important in Indonesia as the disease continues to ravage the archipelago killing millions of poultry and sporadically also humans.
More Indonesians have died from avian influenza than anywhere else in the world and experts are worried that the H5N1 virus could spark a global human influenza pandemic.
The Indonesian government is facing a major challenge: 31 of 33 provinces are known to have been infected by avian influenza. The country’s 240 million people are spread over 6,000 inhabited islands. Without involving rural communities, the government will not be able to control this highly contagious disease, which is endemic throughout most parts of the country.
FAO has helped to train teams of local veterinarians and paraveterinarians in participatory disease surveillance and response (PDS/R) techniques.
Veterinarians and paravets are engaging community members, tapping into their local knowledge and involving them in control efforts. Villagers are also trained to detect and report bird flu cases in poultry and be responsible for their own safety and that of their families.
USAID, AusAID and the government of Japan have supported the initiative with over US$10 million. This initiative is fully integrated in the government’s strategy to control avian influenza and monitored by official veterinary services.
Surveillance and response teams are currently operating in 168 out of the 444 districts in Indonesia. So far 1,200 surveillance and response officers have been trained. PDS/R capacity has been established in all districts of Java, and in the provinces of Bali, North Sumatra and Lampung -- home to almost 70 percent of the country’s population. Provincial PDS/R capacity has also been established in all provinces of Kalimantan and Sulawesi.
"Villagers are like detectives in the field. They are directing us to areas where there are H5N1 outbreaks among poultry," said Ibu Azmiyati, a veterinarian with Tangerang district Livestock Services Department. "Without the help of the communities, we would be lost. There are simply too many backyard farmers and village households," she said. Around 60 percent of all Indonesian households are keeping an estimated 300 million birds in their backyards.
Almost four years after the first outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Indonesia and more than 80 human deaths, there is still an urgent need for community members to be involved in the detection and reporting of sick and dead poultry.
"When some of my chickens that I normally keep at the back of my house died recently, I buried them secretly. After discussions I had with the PDS officer I know that that’s not the right way to go. I'd need to also report them to either the local livestock department or my village head," said Noor Hassan, a shopkeeper in Tangerang’s Bunder village.
The success of PDS/R not only depends on strong links between people and animal health professionals but also on its rapid response capabilities.
During a recent HPAI outbreak in Lampung province on Sumatra island, for instance, a PDR team arrived within 24 hours after bird flu had been detected. The team started immediate control measures. Together with the local community, it culled around 200 chickens and started emergency vaccination.
When word about culling chickens spread, some villagers moved their poultry overnight to nearby forests to avoid detection. Some farmers sold their chickens on the local market.
For PDR officer Agung Kusmartuti, these are her frustrating moments. "We need to do more work to change risky behaviour in communities. Reporting any signs of disease is key for surveillance and control measures. And sick animals should never be moved around or even sold on markets.”
Serving local communities
PDS/R was set up in early 2006 to help address the weakness of the Indonesian government's veterinary services in combating HPAI. By the end of the 90's, the government decentralized many public services, handing full control to regional and local authorities. But their roles were unclear, funding inadequate and priorities left to mayors and village heads. Decentralization has affected almost every sector in the government, including veterinary services.
The PDS/R system is envisaged to address the challenges of decentralization. "Local officials must feel that this surveillance and response programme serves their communities, and that there is a sense of joint ownership," said Eman Sulaeman, a PDS team leader in West Java’s Bandung Livestock Services.
Getting the support of local government is important in instances where culling has to be done. "If the district administration has a budget to pay compensation, it certainly makes our life much easier. Then there is better cooperation and trust among the people," he said.
FAO is planning to extend the training of more PDS/R teams at local government level to control the spread of the H5N1 virus in Indonesia.
"We will be expanding PDS/R further to cover Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua," said James McGrane, FAO Indonesia’s Avian Influenza Team Leader.
"There is no room for complacency: as long as the virus continues to circulate in Indonesia the risk to humans remains,” said McGrane. "Indonesia still has a long way to go to control the H5N1 virus. But the country has taken a major step forward in promoting village disease surveillance and response. This could be a strategy that other affected countries might also want to consider. Working with local communities not only provides crucial data on how the disease is spreading but also mobilises affected communities in Indonesia’s control efforts.”
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