Jakarta – The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has urged the central government to evaluate its COVID-19 handling by prioritizing basic rights principles.
Seven months into the pandemic, the government has been lambasted by experts and epidemiologists for prioritizing the economic recovery over public health in dealing with the disease, which has resulted in the outbreak showing no sign of abating and putting a strain on healthcare systems.
Komnas HAM commissioner Sandrayati Moniaga said the government-sanctioned commission was well aware that economic recovery was a necessity, but it should not be at the expense of public health.
"The right to health is very close to the right to life. We support the economic recovery but it must be carried out in line with principles to protect people's health," Sandra said in a virtual discussion on Monday.
"There are policies [and budgeting] that the government should evaluate so that COVID-19 [cases] won't continue rising. We recommend the government thoroughly review [its COVID-19 handling]," she said.
Sandra pointed to the right of medical workers to protection in regard to the shortage of personal protective equipment in the early weeks of the outbreak, as well as adequate rest periods to prevent them from being physically and mentally exhausted. The fact that Indonesia has a relatively small number of health workers compared with the number of patients has forced medical workers to work long hours, she said.
The Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) recorded that 132 doctors had died of COVID-19 as of Monday. Thousands more are believed to have caught the virus.
The shortage of protective equipment is no longer an issue, but the problem of overwork remains, according to IDI chair Daeng M. Faqih.
"Working longer hours means putting them at greater risk of contracting the virus. Tired workers will have weaker immune systems," he said.
The IDI has proposed to the Health Ministry a cut in working hours for doctors from eight to six hours per shift.
"We have also asked the ministry to audit health facilities in order to find the root cause of why health workers contracted the disease there," Daeng said.
In addition to health workers' rights, Komnas HAM highlighted mistargeted or delays in the distribution of social aid, the lack of access to COVID-19 treatment for people with disabilities, as well as a potential surge of cases ahead of the simultaneous regional elections.
The commission has recommended a postponement of the elections – the campaign season of which is already under way until Dec. 5. Polling day will be held on Dec. 9.
"Public health justifies such a postponement because regional elections potentially attract crowds [who might ignore social distancing] and, therefore, pose high risk [of new infections]," Komnas HAM's research unit head Mimin Dwi Hartono said.
As of Monday, Indonesia had recorded 333,449 COVID-19 cases with 11,844 deaths.
Office and factory workers, who contracted COVID-19 at the workplace and later transmitted the disease to their families at home, are believed to have contributed a large portion to this figure. COVID-19 transmission at offices, factories and communities has been in the spotlight ever since the country relaxed social restrictions in June.
Komnas HAM pointed out the role of the government in pressuring companies to apply stronger health protection for their workers in the workplace.
"Companies should think seriously about how to ensure their workers survive amid the pandemic. [And] the government must warn these companies regarding this issue [compliance with health protocols in the workplace]," she said, adding that employers must avoid laying off workers during the pandemic.
The Manpower Ministry reported that at least 3.5 million workers had been laid off or furloughed as of July 31.
Edi Prio Pambudi, an expert staff member at the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister, said that public health protection did not solely depend on the authorities and that all citizens must play their part in the campaign. (sau)