Dangerous Pandemic Policies

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaTHE government’s poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has played a significant role in the high number of deaths of healthcare workers in Indonesia.

    The chaos over the supply of personal protection equipment (PPE) is just one example of the incompetent crisis management of this pandemic. The administration of Joko Widodo should immediately put things right in order to prevent more deaths.

    At least 181 health care workers in this nation -- most of them doctors -- have died of Covid-19 as of the beginning of September. According to Amnesty International, deaths in Indonesia are around 2.5 percent of the total deaths of health care workers in the world over the same period despite the number of deaths of patients from Covid-19 in Indonesia being only 0.09 percent of the global total. This shows how health workers in Indonesia face a much higher risk of death than their colleagues in other nations.

    The lack of protection for health care workers was apparent since the beginning of the pandemic. Health policy was disorganized. Minister of Health Terawan Agus Putranto, who should have been the conductor, seems to have been playing his own music -- in ways such as promoting "Corona-preventing traditional herbal medicine". Because of the emergency situation, the Covid-19 task force and the health ministry acted quickly by ordering 5 million sets of PPE from a consortium that usually supplies protective equipment to South Korea.

    However, while this was underway, the Finance and Development Supervisory Agency (BPKP) concluded that the price being paid by the government was too high. This conclusion forced the health ministry to halt the project, even though production continued and 5 million sets of PPE were produced in line with the order. As a result, approximately 40 percent of the equipment ordered has been piled up in warehouses ever since. At the same time, another company withdrew because it was unable to produce PPE despite already being in receipt of a government order.

    This chaotic PPE project is both tragic and ironic. While millions of sets of PPE are stacked in warehouses, many health staff work to deal with the Corona pandemic without proper protection. In addition, the additional payments for health care workers promised by President Jokowi in April have not yet been paid in full.

    It is not an overstatement to conclude that not only the virus, but also bad government policymaking has played a role in the deaths of more than 100 health care workers. The loss of these doctors and medical staff at a time of pandemic is truly deplorable. And matters are made worse by the ratio of doctors to population in Indonesia, which is still low at 36 doctors per 100,000 people.

    Of course, the high death rate among health workers could be the result of a number of factors. As well as unsatisfactory protection, there are aspects such as lack of rest, the health of the doctors themselves and the lack of medical capacity in this nation. But the right policies applied quickly should be able to stop matters getting worse. After all, many other nations have implemented sound health policies. According to the Indonesian Public Health Experts Association, only Russia and Egypt have a worse death rate among health care workers than Indonesia.

    President Jokowi should immediately put right this crisis management. Health Minister Terawan has proved unable to overcome the problem. His inability to understand the problems of the pandemic have put health workers in danger. Even public safety is increasingly under threat.

    Now there is the impression that the spread of the coronavirus in Indonesia is increasingly out of control. Everyone appears to be giving up. The government has given a false sense of security by promising that the pandemic will end soon if Indonesia produces a vaccine. But the fact is that the anti-Corona vaccine is still at the clinical trial stage. The chances of success are the same as those of failure. Even if it does pass the trials, a significant length of time will be needed to distribute and then give injections to Indonesia's hundreds of millions of people.

    This pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint. To win, President Joko Widodo cannot only depend on quick fixes. If the president does not immediately bring his subordinates into line, we will find ourselves in a worsening position in the long war against the coronavirus.

    Read the Complete Story in Tempo English Magazine