Cholera in West Papuan highlands – government response condemned

July 2, 2008

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Fears are growing about the spread of cholera amongst tribal people in West Papua, Indonesia. Human rights and church workers report that in the last three months, 85 people have died from the disease.

The Indonesian authorities’ response has been shamefully inadequate, and they claim that the death toll is much lower.

Cholera is a highly infectious disease that can quickly be fatal unless the patient is treated and re-hydrated immediately. The government’s failure to respond to this emergency is likely to result in many deaths.

The Papuans have suffered years of violence and brutality at the hands of the Indonesian military. Many believe that the inadequate response to this health crisis is yet another attempt to destroy the Papuan people. This fear has also made people suspicious of medical treatment offered by the authorities.

West Papua is closed to the international media and human rights observers, which allows the government and military to act with impunity. Little of Papua's health budget finds its way to the Indigenous population. The government is also failing to address the spread of HIV/AIDS in Papua, which has the highest rate in Indonesia.

Paula Makabory from the West Papuan human rights organization, Elsham, says, ‘West Papua must be opened up to the world so the basic human rights, including the right to adequate health of Indigenous West Papuans, can be promoted’.

She is calling for increased political freedom in West Papua so that international health organizations can assist the local communities in avoiding a humanitarian disaster.

Read Survival's report on tribal peoples' health, 'Progress can kill'

Papuan Tribes