Friday, 23 Aug 2019

A measles and malnutrition crisis has killed at least 72 people in Indonesia's remote province


Photo : InternetPhoto : Internet -   Tragic and distressed.  In a land of gold in Indonesia, a measles and malnutrition crisis has killed at least 72 people, mostly children, in Indonesia's remote province of Papua. As we know, Papua is home to the world's biggest gold mine.

And thar crisis has put the spotlight on a region closed off to journalists for decades and revealed serious government failings. Like the story of two months old baby named Yulita Atap's life. Her life has already been brutally hard. Her mother died in childbirth. And now, her father gave her up for dead. Because her father tried to buried her with her mother.

Her uncle, Ruben Atap says, "I said, don't do that, God will be angry, he became calm and was grateful that we wanted to take care of her, but we are now struggling to keep her alive."

She lies limply on a bed in the only hospital in the Asmat regency, a jungle-covered area the size of Belgium. Her ribs exposed, nearly piercing through her skin, her stomach bloated, she floats in and out of sleep.

Her uncle stares constantly at her tiny body. Ruben Atap says he hopes one day his tiny niece will go to school. He said nervously. "I don't know what her future will be like, we are just trying our best to help her survive."

Government health workers helped him make a two-day journey on a speedboat up a river to get here. The rivers are the highways, weaving like snakes through the thick jungle.

And same story also occured to Ofnea Yohanna's family. Three of her children, aged four, three and two, are severely malnourished.

She married when she was just 12 years old. And in her twenties, she has six children. "We eat when there is food, when there isn't we don't. We don't have a boat at the moment to go fishing in," she says.

Her daughter stares emptily off into the distance, her eyes hollow and lifeless. She picks at a packet of sweet biscuits, a pile of plain white rice on brown paper sits uneaten next to her.

Traditionally, the Asmat tribe has lived with sago that extracted from palms, and fish from the rivers and sea. The semi-nomadic Asmat tribes used to spend months in the forest to make sago and find enough food to live.

Michael Rockefeller, the child of a New York governor and from one of America's richest families, came across the world to Asmat to collect the tribe's elaborate and impressive art that includes stylised giant wood carvings. The art of the Asmat people is found in top museums across the world and is prized by collectors.

Cultural changes began happening in the 1950s with the arrival of Christian missionaries, and in recent years diets have dramatically changed with increasing number of migrants from other Indonesian islands coming here.

The nearest city of Timika, an hour's flight away, serves as a centre for the US-owned Freeport mine, the world's largest gold mine. Timika has one of the fastest population growths in Indonesia.

"People increasingly buy imported food and because in some places the forests have been logged they have to go further to get sago," says local health researcher, Willem Bobi.

A native Papuan, Willem Bobi travelled across the vast jungle-covered area and described the dire health situation in a book, The Asmat Medicine Man, which was published last year.

"I knew a crisis like this would come. I saw there was a lack of clean water and a serious lack of health facilitates. I saw health clinics where the only doctors had been on leave for months but were still being paid wages.

"The crisis we are seeing now has happened many times before but it has never been as bad as now. It's happening because the health authorities have not dealt with this seriously enough, " he says.

As news spread about the measles outbreak, President Joko Widodo ordered military and medical teams to bring supplies to remote villages.

Health workers and paramedics vaccinated more than 17,300 children, and authorities now say the measles outbreak is under control.

The military says it is now running a year-old monitoring operation in the area to find out where problems are. However, the head of the military medical teams acknowledged that Jakarta's response was slow.

"Let's be honest, maybe the local and national governments became aware of this [outbreak] late," Asep Setia Gunawan, the military's medical taskforce chief, told AFP.








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