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At a glance: Indonesia

Fighting indifference and ignorance to tackle avian flu in Indonesia

© UNICEF Indonesia/2007/Mohamed
Wiyatno, a farmer in Sragen, Central Java, surveys the empty coop that once held 1,000 chickens, before avian influenza spread through his entire flock.

By Steve Nettleton

SRAGEN, Indonesia, 27 April 2007 – In a small village in Central Java, Wiyatno, a farmer, surveys the dark and empty chamber that was once his chicken coop. Dried droppings and the odd feather are the only proof that the gloomy structure was once home to 1,000 chickens.

Wiyatno had his entire flock slaughtered in 2005 after avian influenza spread rapidly through the coop. He fed some of the dead birds to his stock of catfish and burned and buried the rest. The culling was a financial blow. Wiyatno wants to try raising chickens again, but he is waiting for the price of feed to go down.

While the community is aware of bird flu, many see it as more of an economic nuisance than a life-threatening concern. “Most of the community takes it for granted, because they think avian flu only strikes chickens and not people,” says Wiyatno.

In reality, however, Indonesia has suffered a high human cost from avian influenza. More than 90 Indonesians have been infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus, and about three-quarters of them have died. Particularly at risk are rural villagers who keep small backyard flocks of chickens and ducks to provide food and supplement their income.

Participatory learning projects

Sitam is a shopkeeper who keeps a pen of about 20 chickens behind his home in Central Java. He regularly disinfects the area and has vaccinated his chickens against the virus. “We are afraid of avian flu,” says Sitam. “But we are doing whatever we can to protect ourselves.”

© UNICEF Indonesia/2007/Mohamed
Kindergarten teacher Srirahayu surveys her small flock of chickens at home in Central Java.

UNICEF Indonesia and its partners have been raising awareness and encouraging such prevention efforts through print and broadcast media campaigns. UNICEF has also trained journalists across the country on reporting about the disease.

In addition, the organization is working with local communities on Participatory Learning and Action, or PLA, projects. Through these projects, community members create songs, dramas and posters to which local people can relate. Community leaders also seek to ensure that their neighbours are taking action to stop the spread of avian influenza.

Community approach is working

Srirahayu is a kindergarten teacher in the village of Kecik who tends a cage of chickens at home. She is an enthusiastic participant in local PLA activities, joining in songs and performances and speaking to her peers about keeping safe. She believes the community approach is working.

“The PLA has an impact,” says Srirahayu. “One thing I noticed is that if we put into practice those messages we learned from the PLA, it will actually help the economy. The community has learned to identify the symptoms of bird flu and to report it immediately.”

Yet many Indonesians still say they don’t know enough. In a recent independent audit of UNICEF’s campaign in Western Java, about half of those surveyed said they were not well informed about the virus. In addition, two-thirds of poultry farmers felt the risk of avian flu in their communities was small.

Need for more knowledge

Only a few hundred metres down the road from Srirahayu’s home, chickens and ducks roam freely. Their owners show little concern about their poultry getting infected.

“I don’t really know anything about avian flu. I just know it’s contagious,” remarks Darsih, whose family tends to the birds. “I’m not worried about it. All my chickens look healthy.”

It’s an appearance that may be deceiving and potentially deadly – and a suggestion that providing more technical knowledge about the disease and its spread may be necessary to keep avian influenza in check.




UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on progress being made to raise community awareness about avian influenza in Indonesia.
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