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Jakarta Post

Priorities, priorities

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, September 28, 2020   /   08:16 am
Priorities, priorities Going home: A COVID-19 patient prepares to leave the Pademangan quarantine compound at the former athlete's village in Kemayoran North Jakarta, on Friday. A new tower in the Pademangan compound was opened as a quarantine facility after the temporary COVID-19 hospital became fully occupied. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

Indonesia continues to book record daily highs in new COVID-19 cases and shows no signs of slowing down. With infection far from under control, the government has said it is committed to flattening the curve, but does not have a clear strategy for testing, tracing and treating, as is advised by the World Health Organization.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said on Saturday that Indonesia’s number of cases remained lower than India and the United States, but failed to mention that the scale of testing in Indonesia lags behind these two countries. Jokowi also seems to be satisfied with Indonesia’s COVID-19 recovery rate of 73.5 percent, while the WHO says it’s best to ensure there are no infections at all because the long-term health implications of having been infected remain uncertain.

Read also: Govt consistent in prioritizing health in handling COVID-19, Jokowi says

In any case, the robust development of the healthcare system should be a top priority. Such investment will not only help to contain COVID-19, but will help the country achieve its long-term vision and centennial goal of becoming a developed country by 2045. Economic development requires a healthy society.

Still, the healthcare system is yet to see drastic improvements in this time of desperate need. In fact, a large chunk of the healthcare funds in the government’s COVID-19 budget remain undisbursed. As of Sept. 16, roughly six months into the pandemic, only 21 percent of the health budget had been spent.

The government seems to be betting on a vaccine to speed up the economic recovery. “Insya Allah (God willing) in January we’ll start vaccination so things can go back to normal,” Jokowi said.

However, the distribution of vaccines is likely to take time considering the country’s limited healthcare capacity and geographic challenges. Former finance minister Chatib Basri said for 25 million Indonesians to get the vaccine in a year, the government would need to vaccinate around 68,000 people a day. That compares with today’s COVID-19 testing capacity of less than 40,000 per day.

So, who will get the vaccine first? This raises the question of equality, as does the economic recovery. The big question is, what kind of economy will emerge out of the pandemic? The answer rests on what priorities are taken today. The greatest priority should be given to the most vulnerable segments of society, the sick and the poor. This is why health care and the social safety net need to be the ultimate priorities.

Read also: Jokowi must directly handle COVID-19 measures, epidemiologist says

Nearly 66 percent of the social safety net budget for mitigating the economic impacts of COVID-19 had been disbursed as of September, while 47.5 percent of the budget for assisting micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) had been disbursed as well. There are, however, concerns about the quality of the programs, as the country has yet to establish an integrated social safety net and reliable MSME database. This raises the risk of what economists call a Kshaped recovery, in which the economy improves unevenly, creating polarization.

Boosting healthcare spending and improving social safety programs will help to prevent the exacerbation of inequality and produce a more inclusive economic recovery. Improvements to health care and the social safety net must be the top priority — not just in words, but in practice.