Jakarta – Three months after Indonesia recorded its first COVID-19 cases, healthcare workers are still on the frontline, putting their lives at risk as they battle the day-to-day struggle to treat and cure those infected.
The battleground is especially challenging as Indonesia, like other countries, is facing a shortage of medical supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE), swab test kits and ventilators.
Before COVID-19 morphed into the biggest risk to Indonesia's healthcare system, the country's public health expenditure had already been too low relative to the rest of the world. At 1.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015, it was much lower than the global average of around 3.5 percent. Compare that with 2.9 percent in Thailand, 2.1 percent in Malaysia and 2.4 percent in Vietnam during the same period.
The government did try to come to the rescue, to address the weak healthcare infrastructure and system in the country. It allocated a Rp 75 trillion (about US$5 billion) budget for the healthcare sector to purchase medical equipment and financial incentives for medical workers, according to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's speech on March 31.
The Finance Ministry then detailed that around Rp 6.1 trillion would be allocated for medical workers, including monthly financial incentives worth Rp 15 million for medical specialists, Rp 10 million for physicians and dentists, Rp 7.5 million for nurses and Rp 5 million for other medical staff members. Rp 300 million would be allocated in the event of a medical worker's death.
Dozens of medical workers have now died in Indonesia as they struggle to contain COVID-19, more have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease. The aid has not reached all of them. The Jakarta Post spoke to doctors and nurses in hospitals that treat COVID-19 patients and some of them had yet to hear about the incentives, while others said the hospitals were examining who was eligible.
This is neither right nor fair for the frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives, with some of them being evicted from their rooming houses, while others have had to stay in hotels, unable to reunite with their families for months.
What more can the country give them if not a sense of financial security, if the government is still unable to protect them with proper medical and protective equipment?
It is high time that the government accelerates the disbursement of financial incentives to medical workers, the unsung heroes in our battle against COVID-19. Hospitals need to speed up the process and not let red tape deprive the healthcare workers of their rights.
It is extremely discouraging to see the hashtag #IndonesiaTerserah (Whatever, Indonesia) going viral on social media, with signs held up by doctors and nurses to vent their frustration against people who breach large-scale social restrictions at will. It also looks wrong that financial assistance to businesses, especially state-owned enterprises, is being intensely discussed, while aid for frontline healthcare workers seems to have been sidelined.
Let the medics claim their hard-earned rewards as soon as possible, all ministries, government institutions and hospitals must ensure immediate disbursement of the incentives.