Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari refused Friday to say how many Indonesians had died of bird flu and insisted it was no longer necessary to announce the toll on a case-by-case basis.
Asked for an updated toll in the country most affected by the virus amid unconfirmed reports of a new death, Supari said: "You have to refer that question to my staff."
Advertisement"Publicly announcing the toll every time a victim dies brings no benefit at all to efforts to contain the virus," she said, without confirming a media report that a 15-year-old girl had become Indonesia's 109th bird flu victim.
The minister said she had decided to end the practice of publicly updating the national toll with every new death, and the names of victims would no longer be released to protect the families.
"We will announce the toll periodically, every three months or so," she said.
Earlier this year Supari closed a 24-hour information centre which provided confirmation of new human cases of avian influenza and stopped the ministry's practice of emailing bird flu alerts to journalists.
The last toll published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) says there have been 108 deaths from bird flu in Indonesia since 2005, out of 133 cases. That is almost half of the world toll of 241.
WHO officials in Jakarta and Geneva refused to discuss the minister's comments, saying only that there had been no communication on the matter from the Indonesian health ministry.
Indonesia has been criticised for its reluctance to share information with international scientists battling the constantly mutating virus, without in return being guaranteed access to vaccines that may be developed abroad.
Transmissions have so far been from bird to human but experts worry that the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu could mutate and allow human-to-human transmission, leading to a pandemic that could kill millions.
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