The victim solidarity group Mbua SKJM (‘Solidaritas Korban Jiwa Mbua’) has reported the death of 54 children between early November 2015 and 5 January 2016 due to an epidemic disease. The outbreak of the disease was confirmed by various local news platforms and has affected mostly children under the age of ten years. A survey, conducted by government health institutions in November revealed that the infectious disease might be Pertussis, also commonly referred to as the “whooping cough” or “100-day cough”. The contagious disease also killed livestock, such as pigs, chicken, rabbits and fish, which remain the main source of protein for indigenous Papuans in highland communities. The solidarity group claims that neither the local government, nor national health institutions have seriously responded to stop the epidemic.
According to local sources first indications of the epidemic were already recognized between August and October 2015 with the sudden deaths of wild animals and frogs, later pigs and chicken (see picture below). Between November 2015 and 05 January 2016 the disease killed 55 children in the remote districts Mbua, Dal and Mbumu Yalma of Nduga Regency. SKJM has repeatedly collected data on the progression of the epidemic outbreak and shared its result with the Health Agencies of Nduga Regency, Papua Province and the National Ministry of Health. However, the solidarity group stated that the health institutions never directly collected data from the patients in the affected districts, but only gathered second hand data.
The latest SKJM report also mentions that all three districts lack health centers (PUSKESMAS) and medical personnel – only the district Dal seems to have a health service point (PUSTU). SKJM furthermore provided detailed information on various basic medications at the service point, which were already expired but still prescribed to patients.
One SKJM member said in an interview on 3 January 2016, that 25 fully armed members of the XVII Cenderawasih military unit were deployed to Mbua district since the epidemic outbreak. The soldiers’ presence has intimidated local indigenous communities and even caused some residents to leave their villages and temporarily settle down in the surrounding forest.