Indonesian Government under fire for slow response to measles outbreak in Papua

Indonesian Government under fire for slow response to measles outbreak in Papua

Indonesian Government under fire for slow response to measles outbreak in Papua

Updated 25 January 2018, 12:20 AEDT

Indonesia is under fire for its slow response to a severe measles outbreak in the province of Papua that has claimed the lives of dozens of children.

Indonesia's Government has come under fire for its slow response to a severe measles outbreak in the province of Papua that has claimed the lives of dozens of children.

Key points:

  • At least 59 children killed in remote Asmat region
  • Accusations Papua not being afforded proper health services
  • Government sends taskforce to help contain outbreak

The disease was first reported in September last year and since then at least 59 children living in the remote Asmat region have died, leading to suggestions the Papuan people are being neglected by the Government.

"It is neglected in terms of health care, that's why problems keep on coming up, and there's crisis after crisis," said Human Rights Watch in Indonesia's Andreas Harsano.

Malnutrition among Papuan children is common and combined with low rates of vaccination, containing the outbreak is proving challenging.

Mr Harsano said Papua was not being afforded proper health services.

"I have seen this myself, there are no doctors or nurses, I have seen this for more than a decade," he said.

"They should open up Papua to international assistance."

With health services crowded by families of sick children, local church leaders warned many more lives were on the line.

Jakarta defends response to outbreak

The alarming number of deaths in Asmat has also led to outrage in local Indonesian media.

A strong editorial in the Jakarta Post newspaper accused the Government of caring more about the province's rich natural resources than the Papuan people themselves.

Measles symptoms:

  • Fever
  • General discomfort, illness or lack of wellbeing
  • Runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Sore and red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Red and bluish spots inside the mouth
  • Red and blotchy skin rash on the face and hairline, which spreads to the body
Source: Victorian Department of Health and Human Services

But Jakarta defended its response and said the remote area was difficult to access quickly.

"Yes we have very limited means and staff but this doesn't mean we aren't trying very hard," Agats health department spokesman Steven Langi told Al Jazeera.

"What we need is not just to be criticised, but real help. Those who criticise us I want to invite to work here."

Indonesia's Government announced it was setting up a taskforce in Papua to help contain the outbreak and the Indonesian military said it was also sending more medicine and doctors to the province.

Mr Harsano said authorities need to learn from the crisis in Asmat.

"I wish the Indonesian Government could use this opportunity to listen, we've been talking about this for years, more than a decade in fact," he said.