Asmat, Jubi – Indonesia’s battle to stem a deadly measles outbreak striking malnourished children in Papua is doomed to be repeated unless the government helps lift the isolated region out of grinding poverty, observers said.
AFP reporters obtained rare access to an overwhelmed hospital in Agats, one of the worst-affected communities, witnessed rail-thin children with exposed rib cages lying on rickety beds or wandering foul-smelling hallways.
One malnourished girl, hooked up to an IV drip, was seen lying on the floor of an under-equipped hospital.
The disease has proven especially deadly here as malnutrition makes children more susceptible, weakening their immune systems.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has ordered military and medical teams to bring supplies to remote villages in the far-flung province.
Observers blame the crisis on a complex mix of government inaction, lack of jobs, logistical hurdles in reaching remote communities and resettlement efforts that pose a serious threat to traditional hunting-based lifestyles.
Many Papuans live a semi-nomadic life in hard-to-reach areas of the jungle with almost no proper medical care, schools or other services, including access to clean water.
In the village of Ayam, a ten-hour boat ride from the nearest major city, a tiny clinic lacked almost everything – including doctors – as its few nurses struggled to treat more than two dozen measles cases.
Some locals worry what will happen when the medics leave.
“What we really need is medicine and food so our children here can be healthy again,” said 28-year-old father Yunus Komenemar, whose one-year-old son has measles.
“The government is paying more attention, aid is coming in and there are (positive) changes, but we want it to last.”(AFP)