Devastating health conditions in the Papuan regencies Asmat and Pegunungan Bintang – epidemic outbreaks and malnutrition reveal government failures

Multiple Indonesian news outlets have reported of new cases revealing the ongoing health crisis in West Papua. At least 62 villagers died in the Asmat regency due to malnutrition and the outbreak of measles epidemic since September 2017. Hundreds of villagers have been infected by measles and face difficulties to access health care services. Similar conditions have been reported from Pedam Village in Pegunungan Bintang regency, where 25 villagers had died between October and December 2017 because of measles, diarrhea and malnutrition. The large majority of affected are indigenous Papuans below the age of five years.

 

In the Asmat regency, the measles and malnutrition epidemic has affected multiple districts. While numbers of dead and affected villagers vary between sources at least 550 people have been infected  while at least 62 villagers died, mostly children under the age of 5 years. At least 175 patients had to be hospitalized. However, health care facilities in the regency are in poor condition, even in the regency's largest city of Agats. According to media sources the public hospital is not equipped to deal with all the patients of measles and malnutrition. The hospital only meets health standards of category D hospital with limited facilities, paramedics, doctors and medicine. At least 13 patients of had to be moved to a nearby church building because there are only 20 beds available.

According to the Jakarta Post, the first  warnings and reports of low immunization coverage and malnutrition reached the Health Ministry in September 2017. However, the central, provincial or local government did not take affirmative actions before January 2018, leading to a high number of deaths and the quick spreading of measles among the malnourished indigenous population in Asmat regency. This situation strongly indicates, that neither the central government, nor the local government in Papua province and Asmat regency have been able to develop an effective early warning system to prevent measles and malnutrition.

The Asian Human Rights Commission AHRC reacted by issuing a press release to the case. In the press release the AHRC urges the Indonesian government to “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.”

A further health crisis in Pedam Village in the Okbab district of Pegunungan Bintang Regency has been reported by the Papuan media outlet Tabloid Jubi. The incident was confirmed by the head of the Pegunungan Bintang government health agency, Mr. Jeremias Tapyor on 22 January 2017. According to data which was compiled at the village by a health survey team, 25 villagers had died between October and December 2017 due to measles, diarrhea and malnutrition, 23 of them children under the age of five years. The health agency became aware of the case after a group of university students from Okbab had gathered data about the growing number of deaths among children in Pedam Village.  


Table showing the number villagers affected by malnutrition, infected by measles and number of dead villagers segregated by village and district

Nr

Districts

Villages

Number of Infected/ affected villagers

Number of dead villagers

Additional Information

1

Pulau Tiga

Nakai

63

4

All deaths and infections related to Measles outbreak

2

 

Yamas

1

0

Measles outbreak

3

 

Yeni

1

0

Measles outbreak

4

Sawa Erma

 

39

0

Measles outbreak

5

Akat

 

40

0

Measles outbreak

6

Sirets

Yousakor

14

0

11 patients infected by measles, 3 cases of malnutrition

7

Agats

 

19

0

12 patients infected by measles, 3 cases of malnutrition

8

 

Kappi

3

2

Measles outbreak

9

 

As

28

9

28 patients infected by measles, 8 deaths related to malnutrition, 1 deaths related to measles

10

 

Atat

53

25

53 patients infected by measles, 2 deaths related to malnutrition, 23 deaths related to measles

11

Suator

Waganau I

8

0

Measles outbreak, in 5 of the cases doctors suspected measles

12

Fayit & Aswi

 

108

22

101 patients infected by measles, 7 cases of malnutrition, 1 death related to malnutrition, 21 deaths related to measles

13

Jetsy

 

112

0

Measles outbreak

14

Sirets

 

108

0

Measles outbreak

TOTAL

597

62

 

 

Source: Satu Harapan (15 January 2018): Pemkab Asmat Bentuk Tim Tangani Wabah Campak-Gizi Buruk, available at http://www.satuharapan.com/read-detail/read/pemkab-asmat-bentuk-tim-tangani-wabah-campak-gizi-buruk