The outbreak of measles and malnutrition: an old story

Hello, sorry for the prolonged absence. Two months! MY GOD.

Our volunteers were out busy celebrating Christmas and New Year in December and January. So apologies for that and happy belated New Year all!

We are back now however to review what went on in January.

One major Papua news that made headlines across the international media circuit from NYT to ABC is Measles, malnutrition kill nearly 100 in Indonesia’s Papua.

Kompas newspaper was the first to report on this issue, and put a face on this issue by photographing a Papuan child who was suffering from malnutrition in their headline.

Foreign media was quick on their heels and followed up the rest.

Regarding this issue, Indonesia’s Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono explained deeper in his article “Why Children are Dying of Measles in Papua, Indonesia.” Based on his observation visiting Papua, he found the key lack of vaccinations, fueling this epidemic.

The outbreak of measles and malnutrition cases in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua province is not new. This has been happening for years, but has never received this much scrutiny or attention. So why the sudden attention?

Here is a rough chronological timeline of various cases of malnutrition and other health outbreaks in Papua.

A quick note of disclaimer: The list may not be complete, it’s hard to know the full scale and extent of children in Papua who died due to poor management of data by local government. The bulk of this data comes from activist groups missionaries who collect these data and stories.

In 1996, in Bintuni, 48 children died due to chemical waste from a British Petreleum project, called BP Tangguh. The company is part owned by Pertamina and Mitsubishi, and the resulting shale gas cooperation tragedy was never resolved.

In 2002, Papua’s prominent newspaper Tabloid Jubi reported in February 2002, 61 people were reportedly died of clinical malaria and Amuba in Amoma village, Kurima district, Jayawijaya.

In September 2003, Tabloid Jubi released data of malnutrition case in West Papua. They quoted Head of Papua’s Department of health Tigor Silaban who mentioned that at least 27,3 percent of children suffered from malnutrition. The highest prevalence was in Puncak Jaya regency with 61,8 percent, and the lowest was in Sorong Regency with 20,2 percent. Meanwhile, the average of the malnutrition’s prevalence in Indonesia was 16 percent.

In the same year, other Papua’s newspaper Cendrawasih Post quoted the data from UNICEF which showed the number of infants who died in Papua is the highest in the world. In 2003, it was about 186 children deaths from a thousand births, with the infant mortality rate of 122/1000 births.

Furthermore, UNICEF estimated 3,000 children from 60,000 newborns die before reaching the age of one. Meanwhile the journey to become a toddler is frought with peril with 60 dying from 1000. Mothers do not fare well either with 500 dying from from 1000.000 who gave birth.

January 2004, Media Indonesia Online reported 30 people died in Borme district, Bintang highland, because of diarrhea. Many also died in in Jayapure after succumbing from tuberculosis and malaria. There is no data on the number of deaths, but presumably many children were the victims of this disease.

April 2008, in what is now called the Lembah Kamuu’s tragedy, about 172 were reportedly died in Dogiay from diarrhea and cholera. The diseases spread faster like virus to another district like Paniai Regency. Not sure the number of children who died from this.

January-March 2013, The Award-winning Pastor Pater John DJonga disclosed the list of the Papuan Indigenous people who died because of malnutrition. Among of them are children.

In November 2015, number of children in Mbuwa district of Nduga were reported to have mysteriously diedA report by Tempo explained why people died from malnutrition.

In July 2017, about 40 children died after suffering from measles in Deiyani Regency. This is statement from the Ministry of Health affair. 

In September 2017, about 10 children died suddenly in Yahukimo Regency.

Then the Asmat case completed the list of malnutrition case in Papua.

What is happening in West Papua? Why has the government failed to tackle the issue? Where has all the trillions of rupiah gone?

Many seem to think if the government invests money to build roads in Papua, everything will be solved. Some even think that Otsus is the road to Papua’s welfare. 

But not everyone is happy with Otsus. Because what’s the point of the Otsus roadway if people continue to live in poverty, experience injustice, and still suffer from disease, and childred die of malnutrition?

Is there even a comprehensive solution for Papua?

In our opinion, the only solution is to open up Papua to the world.

“By maintaining this restriction, the government is operating like a paranoid regime, afraid the outside world may find the skeletons it hides in its closet. If the government has done much to improve the lives of Papuans, why not show it to the world?”

Lastly, congratulations to Citra Dyah Prastuti from KBR, who was awarded with the Oktovianus Pogau Award for her bravery in covering news on democracy, tolerance and human rights.

We would like to ask you to spread the newsletter and ask your colleagues, family members, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, exes, neighbours, ojek drivers to subscribe to our newsletter here.

Thank you.

Love and Hugs,

Friends and Editors, Suara Papua

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