Health / Nearly 100 people have died after measles outbreak hits Indonesia’s Papua

By: Thomas Brent - Posted on: January 23, 2018 | Current Affairs

So far, 69 toddlers have died in the Asmat region of Papua, while 23 children were killed by the highly contagious infection in the mountainous district of Oksibil

Indonesia has the fifth-highest level of stunting from malnutrition in the world, with 19.6% of Indonesian children under five years old (approximately 4.4 million) being underweight Photo: Val Handumon/EPA

Nearly 100 people have died in Indonesia’s remote province of Papua after an outbreak of measles struck the region where most of the residents were already suffering from severe cases of malnutrition.

An estimated 69 toddlers died in the Asmat region of Indonesia’s eastern most province, Papua military spokesman Muhammad Aidia told the AFP on Sunday. And in the same time period, church officials from the mountainous district of Oksibil have confirmed that 23 children and four adults died from the highly contagious respiratory disease.

Most of the residents to die from this typically very treatable infection have been children, underscoring the inadequacy of the island’s health care system in an already poverty-stricken area of Indonesia.

“Measles is not dangerous, it’s a mild disease. But because those children are malnourished, they can’t cope in that condition,” Aidia told the AFP.

He went on to say that the government has responded by sending medical teams and supplies of medicine, equipment, vaccines and nutritious food.

Delivering aid to the region, however, will not be an easy task due to the province’s remote and not easily accessed location.

Asmat is a swampy and inaccessible area that remains relatively underdeveloped in terms of infrastructure and facilities. Getting there can be difficult, as it requires a flight from Papua’s capital Jayapura, followed by a helicopter ride and then a boat ride, Channel NewsAsia reported.

Oksibil district is not much better. Having a population of just 4,000, some of the villages in this remote district of Papua can take at least a day to reach by foot, which is sometimes the only method of transportation available.

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), an independent body that seeks to raise awareness of human rights violations around Asia, posted a scathing statement on their website in response to Indonesia’s handling of the recent measles outbreak:

“[National laws] guarantee the right to equal health access for all citizens. The AHRC views the current lack of health access and facilities in Papua, and the deaths of 68 children, as a clear violation of the Indonesian government’s responsibility towards its citizens.”

Because Indonesia has not developed equal healthcare in Papua when compared to the rest of the country, the statement continued, the AHRC holds the government accountable for this public health disaster.

“The current efforts to address the problem are simply too little, too late,” the AHRC said.

According the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 90,000 people died from measles in 2016, with most of the victims being under five years old.

Measles is a highly contagious disease that is spread by coughing, sneezing, personal contact or direct contact with a person’s infected nasal or throat sections.

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