August 27, 2008
Indonesians are getting increased awareness of the dangers of bird flu thanks to the country's largest Muslim group Muhammadiyah.
The group ran campaigns in 12,000 villages over the past two years, according to the group's event organizer Ahmad Imam M Rais.
One secret in getting involved is to launch specific activities, Rais said.
Muhammadiyah has a group of 12,000 campaigners working to remove poultry from residential areas; promote regular use of disinfectants to kill the H5N1 virus; and train local residents to properly handle disposal of infected chickens.
Under the Muhammadiyah Team to Tackle Avian Influenza, the organization has also established a network of 7,000 'Avian Influenza Force' volunteer groups in nine provinces including Jakarta, North Sumatra and Bali.
The group's approach is to make people believe there is nothing to be afraid of with bird flu, because it is preventable, Rais said.
However, he acknowledged that it is difficult to overcome villagers deep-rooted fears and behaviour about the epidemic.
Villagers also find it hard to differentiate between symptoms of bird flu and those of Newcastle disease (ND), resulting in improper disposal and hence the spread of the virus, he added.
Indonesia has the world's highest human fatalities from bird flu. The government has said it cannot control the avian influenza epidemic on its own due to limited resources.
Since the government cannot act alone, community groups can definitely act to bring bird flu campaigns closer to the public as they have members across the country, said I Nyoman Kandun, Director-General for Disease Control and Environmental Sanitation at the Department of Health.
He said Muhammadiyah, with some 30 millions members, could help the government prevent and control bird flu outbreaks across the country.
Other professional and religious groups like the Indonesian Veterinarian Association and Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama have also been working with the government in fighting bird flu, he added.