The Jakarta Post
The pandemic’s grip has forced death – a topic many would rather avoid – to the forefront of the country’s consciousness. Virus statistics creep ever upward on screens, stoking debates and blame games for some and stigma for others.
But it is grief – including for the bereaved families and friends of medical workers – that stings the most.
In a broken voice and tear-brimming eyes, pediatrician Retno Ayu Adhisti recalled that while she was growing up, her late father’s calling meant he was barely home. Day and night, she said, he helped women deliver babies, in Tuban, East Java, and the demands of his profession made her reluctant to follow in his footsteps.
Even as some of his colleagues suspended their practices because of the pandemic, Retno’s father, 70-year-old Riyanto, a senior obstetrician-gynecologist in a town where such a specialization was in short supply, continued to help expecting mothers.
Retno said her father’s "love for his patients", cultivated over 20 years in the profession, was behind his devotion to his work.
Riyanto’s family always prepared personal protective equipment (PPE) for him, knowing very well that he was at high risk of contracting COVID-19, but in late August, he succumbed to the virus.
"Once papa was gone, I came to realize his big impact. He loved to teach,” she said.
“Now that he’s gone, everyone in the family has had to self-isolate, but there are many people praying on their own to remember his service. Many have also let us know through WhatsApp how good he was.”
What Retno regretted most was that her father had to spend his last days in isolation.
"We couldn't accompany him during his last moments. There wasn't any proper farewell," Retno said during the recent launch of a digital memorial for medical workers who died of COVID-19 initiated by the LaporCOVID (Report COVID-19) community.
Indonesia is losing its precious medical workers to the pandemic.
According to the Indonesian Medical Association (IDI), 107 doctors had died of COVID-19 as of Monday, alongside eight dentists and 70 nurses as of early September. Thousands more are thought to have caught the virus.
The disease is not just hitting older doctors but also ones who were just beginning their careers with a lifetime of dreams.
Berkatnu, a 28-year-old general practitioner at the Soewandhi COVID-19 referral hospital in Surabaya, died in April of the illness after 22 days of treatment in the hospital he once worked in.
Berkatnu's mother, Inriawaty Karaheni, could not hold back her tears as she remembered her son's commitment to serving people with care. Berkatnu lived separately from the rest of his family, who live in Kalimantan. His father died of COVID-19 two months after Berkatnu’s death.
"Mama is proud of you. Mama loves you, but God loves you more. Thank you for showing us your devotion as a doctor, even though it's been very short, but you've achieved your childhood dream to serve people," she said.
The deaths of medical workers have been a loss not only to their families and friends, but also to the country.
Medical specialists, too, have died of the virus, raising concerns that the country is losing not only precious lives but decades of valuable medical knowledge, which could impede the training of Indonesia’s future doctors.
Even doctors in their residencies have had to face the risks of the disease. At least two final-year residents have died of the virus.
Indonesia, with some 271 million people, has 0.13 specialist doctors per 1,000 people, less than half the government's target of 0.28 per 1,000 people as part of its health reform program, according to National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) data cited by the IDI. The figure for general practitioners is 0.52 per 1,000 people, less than half the ideal target of 1.12.
Earlier in the pandemic, the lack of PPE hit medical workers hard, and now, six months in, doctors and nurses face an increasing number of patients and a limited capacity for testing and treatment.
The deaths of medical workers showed that "their rights to live and to health were certainly neglected", Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid said recently, urging the government to protect medical workers' rights to safe working conditions.
Amnesty's analysis showed that Indonesia had among the highest death rates for medical workers of any country in the world, having reached at least 7,000 fatalities. Even though the United States and Mexico recorded a higher number of medical worker deaths, their ratios to total COVID-19 deaths are lower than that of Indonesia at 2.3 percent.