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'Shortage of doctors' led to mysterious deaths in Papua

With appropriate care, most of the 43 victims would have lived, activists say

'Shortage of doctors' led to mysterious deaths in Papua

Published: December 18, 2015 04:39 AM GMT

Updated: December 17, 2015 06:55 PM GMT

A scarcity of medical personnel in Indonesia's Papua province contributed to the mysterious deaths of 43 people, mostly children, in the Mbuwa area of Nduga district during October and November, activists claim.

The village has two unstaffed medical clinics, said Wene Talenggen, a local activist.

The majority of victims were less than two years old, he said.

"In the beginning they had symptoms such as flu, diarrhea, vomiting before they died," Talenggen told ucanews.com Dec. 17.

The victims' parents were unable to take their children to the nearest hospitals in Wamena because of the distance and rugged terrain. "The area is located along mountain slopes and difficult to gain access to," he said.

Talenggen said there is no public transportation in the area, and a rental vehicle would cost at least US$200, beyond the reach of the families, who were mostly subsistence farmers.

Peneas Lokbere, coordinator of the United for Truth and Solidarity of Human Rights Victims in Papua, said most of the victims would have survived if they had received immediate treatment.

"But when parents brought the children to local clinics, there was no one to assist them. The medical workers had moved to cities," Lokbere said.

"The parents did not have any choice but to stay at home, waiting for a miracle to happen," he said.

The Rev. Benny Giay of the Kemah Injili Church told ucanews.com on Dec. 16 that 140 people died in 2014 of similar symptoms in the neighboring area of Jigi.


Unknown cause of death

The official causes of the deaths remain unknown, and are being investigated by provincial doctors.

Earlier, Indonesia's health minister Nila F. Moeloek told reporters that the mountainous region's cold weather in the past few months forced many people to remain in their homes that are heated by wood fires.

The lack of ventilation could have led to serious respiratory ailments, she said.

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