The Indonesian virus sharing impasse is said to be over, and with the dÃ©nouement comes some fascinating new information. Many will remember the row started when an Australian vaccine maker took an Indonesian viral isolate and made an experimental vaccine from it (see many posts among those here). At the time it was said the Indonesian Health Minister objected that her country would never be able to afford the vaccine and she therefore stopped making the virus available to WHO. WHO was the source of the seed strain used by the Australian company to make a prototype vaccine.
It turns out, however, there was more to it than affordability:
JEFF WATERS [Australian Broadcasting]: One such prototype vaccine was developed last year from an Indonesian virus sample, by Australia’s CSL company.
The project was funded by the former government and the vaccine was designed to be used to immunise emergency workers if a pandemic broke out.
But it was a statement by the former health minister Tony Abbott, that that vaccine would only be made available to Australians, which apparently prompted Indonesia to stop its sharing virus samples with the rest of the world.
Now in opposition Mr Abbott defends the decision not to share the vaccine.
TONY ABBOTT: We thought that this prototype vaccine, of which a comparatively small amount was being produced by CSL, should be kept fundamentally for Australians.
We thought that it was important to vaccinate Australians before we then went to the rest of the world. (Australian Broadcasting [hat tip Rob T.])
That was the conservative Australian government of Bush-clone John Howard. Now it’s the turn of the Labour government. When they were in the Opposition they pledged to make the vaccine available to Indonesia. Now it’s time to make good on the pledge. We’ll see.
This new information makes the reaction of the Indonesian government less bizarre. But the new book by Health Minister Siti Supari makes her look even more bizarre. The sorry record in combatting bird flu by Indonesia’s decentralized and virtually impotent central government is well known. As the responsible Minister, however, Siti Supari answers to a Higher Authority:
As bird flu continues to claim lives, Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari recently published Saatnya Dunia Berubah, Tangan Tuhan dibalik Flu Burung (It’s Time for the World to Change, Divine Hands behind Bird Flu).
With her book, it would seem, religious doctor Siti seeks a miracle from God, confident in the belief that her ministry has taken all possible measures to alleviate the disease.
Several times Siti mentions how she prayed to God for strength, prior to important meetings with World Health Organization representatives or countries opposed to her bold stance.
From her writing it is clear Siti firmly believes God attends her every meeting, even during long flights to Europe, following minutes and, while on the podium, moving her mouth with divine hands to unleash her anger.
In her closing, after a series of diplomatic meetings, she seems to renounce the outcome to God, in her belief that He would never disappoint the oppressed. (Emmy Fitri, Jakarta Post [hat tip Rob T.])
Forget virology and epidemiology. Bird flu is part of God’s plan. Note that the Jakarta Post is very much an Establishment newspaper. It is also quite influential. It seems, then, that her book may have put her out of favor. Indeed the English translation of the book was withdrawn shortly after publication because of alleged inaccuracies in the translation. While she may have believed her manifesto would be greeted with acclaim, it has been greeted with the derision it deserves, even by the establishment press:
Bird flu, as the title suggests, is God’s latest gizmo — adding to the spread of TB, dengue, AIDS, malaria, chikungunya, diarrhea and cholera as well as numerous other scourges Indonesia has been ravaged with.
So, is it God’s will for us to face bird flu even when people live in dangerously unhygienic conditions in densely populated areas?
Is it a divine decision that people and chickens die painful deaths because the virus attacks and infests the lungs in a matter of days?
Could God spare us all with a peaceful departure because He is the supreme Giver?
In hopefully what reflects only her personal opinion, Siti claims those who have died from bird flu are martyrs.
Next time a campaigner knocks on the door and asks the home owner to cage their free-range chicken, the owner could casually answer, “Sorry, the chicken is God’s creation. If I contract bird flu and die, it’s God’s will.”
The book’s title seems to deny all the hard work of scientists who have tirelessly sought to uncover the mysteries of the virus, but we have never heard of desperate scientists jumping t
If scientists are found idle at home and are unable to keep the public posted of their latest work, it would be purely because they were not encouraged or assisted.
It’s surely not God’s will there are no proper laboratories where intensive research can be conducted.
Nor was it God’s hands that moved state officials to draft only a scanty amount of budget toward research and development.
If the Agriculture Ministry, supposedly responsible for managing poultry industries large and small, keeps its mouth tightly shut, it must not be God’s will either.
So if we must accept the Health Minister’s much-praised book, we should stay put, run business as usual and wait for God to remove the virus. (Jakarta Post)
It seems that Health Minister Siti Supari’s stock has fallen dramatically. This supports our previous surmise that the publication of her book and the resumption of virus sharing are related.
We would be remiss if we didn’t observe that the position taken by the Howard government was a particularly clumsy incitement Australia’s regioinal neighbor and source of the very seed virus from which Australia was claiming exclusive benefit . . . Health Minister Siti Supari notwithstanding. Siti Supari is a dangerous nutcase and while she remains in the Indonesian government, its reputation will suffer. Meanwhile maybe the new Labour government can start to resuscitate the moribund reputation of Australia.
If so, there may even be hope for the US after Bush.