Indonesia to help develop rapid bird flu test

JAKARTA, Oct 5 (Reuters) - The Indonesian government has teamed up with a Singaporean firm to develop an early diagnostic bird flu test kit for humans, the health minister said on Thursday.

A rapid test for bird flu infections in humans is key for existing treatments to be more effective, potentially saving lives.

Tamiflu, a drug made by Swiss giant Roche AG which has been used successfully to treat some patients, rapidly loses its effectiveness if not used in early stages of the disease.

"With this, case finding will be much faster, so treatment can be done as soon as possible," Siti Fadillah Supari told reporters after a signing ceremony between the health ministry and Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory.

"Temasek already has the concept of the development but they need the virus strains, something which we have, to produce the rapid test kit," she added.

The laboratory is part of Singapore's state financial arm Temasek Holdings.

Tan Kok Keng, chief operating officer of Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory, said he hoped the diagnostic kit would be produced within a year.

"We have the technology, so we are here to evaluate further for detection of the H5N1 virus. First we have to develop it for animals and farms, subsequently and obviously it will be extended for humans," Keng said.

"We are concerned with the various strains of the virus. We want to make sure the diagnostic kit will have a good coverage of deeper strains of H5N1, whether for Indonesia, Vietnam or elsewhere in the world."

Indonesia has become one of the frontlines in the battle against the disease. So far, 52 people have died of bird flu, the highest of any country, with the majority of deaths since the beginning of this year.

Worldwide, 148 people have died of bird flu since 2003.

The H5N1 virus mainly affects birds but experts fear it could mutate into a strain capable of killing millions of people in a global pandemic.

More deaths are feared in Indonesia because the virus is endemic in poultry across much of the huge archipelago of 17,000 islands.


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