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Indonesia scrambles to contain deadly measles outbreak

Jakarta flies doctors to Papua to stem disease that has killed least 67 infants in remote areas in recent months

Indonesia scrambles to contain deadly measles outbreak

At least 67 toddlers in Indonesia's Papua province have fallen victim to measles in an outbreak blamed on lack of access to health care. (Photo by Goh Chai Hin/AFP)

At least 67 infants in one of Indonesia's poorest provinces have died from a combination of measles and malnutrition over the past few months in an outbreak that authorities are struggling to contain due to a lack of access to remote areas.

Authorities in Papua's Asmat district — criss-crossed by rivers and which can only be accessed by air or boat — have declared an "emergency" prompting Jakarta to fly in nearly 100 doctors, including some from the military on Jan. 17.

More than 560 children have been treated at the only state-run hospital in the district since the outbreak in September.

Currently, 15 children are being treated at the hospital, Doctor Steven Langi, head of Public Health Service of Asmat District Health Office told ucanews.com.

More doctors are needed to prevent the outbreak from getting worse in outlying areas, he said.

Asmat district has only 26 doctors serving a population of more than 90,000 people.

The shortage of doctors and poor access to remote areas has exacerbated efforts to treat patients and provide vaccinations, according to Catholic priest, Father Neles Tebay, rector of Fajar Timur School of Philosophy in Abepura and coordinator of the Papuan Peace Network.

He also blamed poverty and a lack of education on health issues among locals as another cause of the crisis.

"In dealing with such health issues in Papua, it must be seen as the responsibility of every party including the Papuan people," he said, suggesting that the Papuan people should start to think of alternative solutions to improve their quality of life.    

Father Hendrikus Hada, head of an Agats-Asmat Diocese aid distribution team, said his team was working with authorities to distribute much-needed help.

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He said the province's public health agency as well as organizations and individuals have sent aid to the diocese.

"They do not know how to send aid directly because of the lack of access," he said.

Yulius Setianto, coordinator of the Asmat Solidarity Movement, an alliance of five Catholic organizations, said his group has started collecting donations from Catholics across the country to provide aid.

The money raised will be sent to the diocese, he said. "The diocese's team will spend the money to buy necessities to be distributed to those in need."

Media reports said that the province's public health service has sent three tons of food supplements, and measles vaccine to the stricken district.

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