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INDONESIA: Papua faces health emergency

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

INDONESIA: Papua faces health emergency

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is concerned about the health crisis facing Asmat regency in Papua, Indonesia. So far, 68 children have died from measles and serious malnutrition in Asmat. As reported by national media, the measles and malnutrition epidemic has affected 11 districts of Asmat regency: Swator, Aswi, Akat, Fayit, Pulau Tiga, Kolf Branza, Jetsy, Pantai Kasuari, Safan, Unirsarau, and Siret. Being the most remote areas of Asmat regency, victims in these districts have faced serious difficulties in obtaining access to medical facilities. Even in the regency’s capital, Agats, the Agats General Hospital (RSUD) is not equipped to deal with all the patients of measles and malnutrition. A category D hospital with limited facilities, paramedics and doctors, the hospital at present needs more medicine due to limited stock, and due to limited space, some patients have been hospitalized in the nearest church building.

This circumstance shows how Papua has been left behind in terms of health facilities, infrastructure and development. In Jakarta, Java island or other islands such as Sumatera and Bali, there are numerous public and private hospitals of type B and A, easy to access. Papua mostly has public hospitals of type D, especially in remote areas. There is a category A hospital in Jayapura city, the capital of Papua, but it is quite far from Agats and to reach Jayapura from Agats is not easy due to the lack of infrastructure.

The above situation clearly highlights how neither the central government of Indonesia in Jakarta, nor the local government in Papua province and Asmat regency have been able to develop an early warning system to prevent measles and malnutrition. The AHRC is concerned that the epidemic can easily spread to other places in Papua, particularly in remote areas lacking in health facilities. Since Papua was integrated into the Republic of Indonesia in 1969, Papua has remained the poorest and least developed province.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Indonesia is obligated to ensure its citizens’ rights to be free from hunger; to address the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases; and to create conditions which would assure medical attention to all. Similarly, national laws such as Law No. 36 of 2009 guarantee the right to equal health access for all citizens. The AHRC views the current lack of health access and facilities in Papua, and the deaths of 68 children, as a clear violation of the Indonesian government’s responsibility towards its citizens. By not developing equal health care in Papua, the government is to blame for this considerable loss of life. The current efforts to address the problem are simply too little, too late.

The government should immediately announce a health emergency in Papua and open access for medical aid, including international medical support. It should also allow access to the media to ensure accountability and to monitor the eradication of the epidemic. Furthermore, the government needs an affirmative action policy to boost development of health access in Papua. The assistance from the central government should not merely be limited to eradicating disease in Asmat regency, but should ensure that remote areas in Papua receive priority in development of health access, facilities and infrastructure.

The National Commission on Human Rigths (Komnas HAM), the Minister of Health and Ombudsman of Republic of Indonesia, the House of Representatives, in particular Commission IX which concerns health, food and medicines, should take initiatives to monitor, evaluate and ensure the implementation of such policies. Local government should also open access for NGOs and media to monitor the recovery and development in remote areas.

Further, the AHRC also urges the government to comprehensively ensure that all children, including pregnant mothers in Papua, particularly in Asmat regency, are given enough nutrition, food, and vaccines to prevent disease.

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The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) works towards the radical rethinking and fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in order to protect and promote human rights in Asia. Established in 1984, the Hong Kong based organisation is a Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, 2014.

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