Responding to the first global flu pandemic alert in 41 years, health authorities on Friday said that the country was well prepared to handle the worst scenario, if the A(H1N1) influenza virus hit Indonesia’s shores.
“We are ready to face the outbreak, all we need to do is keep doing what we’ve done before in a better way,” Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the Ministry of Health’s director general of communicable diseases, told the Jakarta Globe.
Tjandra said the pandemic status should not be perceived as a nightmare as the definition of pandemic itself did not necessarily mean the whole world had been affected.
The World Health Organization, which issues such alerts, defines a pandemic as an outbreak in more than one WHO region.
“We have to remember that, until now, not one case has been found in our country, so stay alert but there is no need to panic,” Tjandra said.
He said the fatality rate from the influenza, better known as swine flu, was only 0.5 percent compared with the 80 percent from avian influenza. About 95 percent to 97 percent of people infected by the swine flu virus did not even need to be admitted to hospitals, he said.
“We’re not underestimating the disease, but we should respond to the condition proportionally,” Tjandra said, adding that in Indonesia, the risk from dengue fever was higher than from swine flu. Tjandra said Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari had ordered all provincial governors to tighten the monitoring of all ports, and to step up outbreak-prevention activities.
The ministry had also met with 600 heads of health agencies across the country to explain how the program would be conducted. Tjandra said it would cover logistics and human resources preparation, checking all health facilities, especially the referral hospitals, and alerting all stakeholders.
“The recommendations made by the WHO are no different than the ones they made after announcing the level-five alert status,” Tjandra said. A pandemic alert is at level six.
He said the ministry had ordered every international airport and seaport to activate their thermal scanners to prevent the possibility of a virus transmission from people arriving from affected countries.
Bayu Krisnamurthi, the executive chairman of the National Committee for Avian Influenza Control and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (Komnas FBPI), said on Friday that Indonesia was well advanced in its preparations for a swine flu pandemic because the country had been trained in handling bird flu.
Bayu warned though that Indonesia needed to stay alert.
“No country can ever be fully prepared for such an event, so we must remain vigilant,” he said.
Separately, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said the ministry would issue a warning if requested but there would have to be an interdepartment mechanism for this first discussed by the Coordinating Ministry for People’s Welfare and the Ministry of Health.
“Our embassy in Mexico [where swine flu originated in April] has been operating normally,” he said.
“At the onset, there was fear about swine flu as we did not know how to deal with it but we have seen improvements.”