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Indonesia is countering its runaway avian flu problem by involving villagers as active participants in surveillance and response.

In the dusty village lanes of Java, Indonesia, a new approach to tracking outbreaks of avian influenza is afoot. Known as participatory epidemiology, this international effort aims to harness local knowledge to control the spread of the deadly H5N1 strain.

Few would deny the need for systematic control. Indonesia's avian influenza problem is the world's worst, with the virus endemic among poultry throughout much of the country. Indonesia also tops the list in the number of H5N1 human fatalities.

In this article, Dennis Normile chronicles how the participatory approach was tailored to meet the needs of Javan villagers. The method has previously been used to fight rinderpest in Africa and Asia and hog cholera in South America.

Teams of animal health officers tap local observations of avian disease in their area. Villagers are involved in any big decisions, such as culling, and compensated immediately, while other birds in the vicinity are then vaccinated.

The challenges are substantial: Indonesia's animal health infrastructure is patchy and the government has yet to offer real support. The country nevertheless plans to extend the programme to Bali and parts of Sumatra — and go for the long haul.

Link to article in Science

Reference: Science, 315, 30 (2007)