Indonesian minister says swine flu could be man-made

Posted at 04/28/2009 3:22 PM | Updated as of 04/28/2009 3:22 PM

JAKARTA - Indonesian Heath Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said Tuesday the deadly swine flu virus could have been man-made, as she urged calm over its spread around the world.

The controversial minister did not elaborate but in the past she has said Western governments could be making and spreading viruses in the developing world to boost pharmaceutical companies' profits.

"I'm not sure whether the virus was genetically engineered but it's a possibility," she told reporters at a press conference called to reassure the public over the government's response to the swine flu threat.

No cases of the disease have been reported in Indonesia, the country worst hit by the bird flu virus which has killed about 250 people worldwide since 2003.

Indonesian authorities have increased body temperature scanners at airports and banned imports of live pigs and pork products, amid World Health Organisation (WHO) warnings of a pandemic.

Supari, a cardiologist, also claimed that the H1N1 strain of swine flu, which is believed to have killed more than 150 people in Mexico, could not survive in tropical countries like Indonesia.

"We have to be alert at all times although swine flu in Indonesia is not a cause for panic," she said.

"H1N1 survives in countries with four seasons. The type A H1N1 virus hopefully won't be able to sustain itself once it enters the tropical climate of Indonesia," she added.

The virus has been found in 11 countries including Mexico, the United States and Spain, while several other countries from Colombia to New Zealand are investigating suspected cases.

Supari said the health ministry had prepared 100 hospitals to handle swine flu cases should the disease enter Indonesia.

The minister has refused since 2006 to share all but a handful of Indonesia's bird flu virus samples with WHO researchers, saying the system is being abused by rich countries to develop profitable vaccines which poor countries must buy.