It’s the People, not the Numbers that Matter the Most By Dr. Reisa Broto Asmoro

One year on. My assignment as COVID-19 spokeswoman that is. Not when pandemic started.

Every individual gets his or her story of brushing with COVID-19, including mine. There are bad times, and other many more people have even more terribly sad stories then mine. But nothing is good about being during pandemic. I am grateful to God for surviving this rowdy year, but to be honest, if I turned back the times, I would rather avoid pandemic.

This pandemic has seeped into our lives dramatically, bringing about changes in so many ways and at the same time it poses challenges that we need to address.

And for many of us particularly in health sector lost dearly. This plague has claimed our best doctors, nurses and dozens of other health workers who fought tirelessly at the frontline to save other’s lives. Hundreds of them have perished, with one third of them were doctors. Such a huge loss.

Considering that to join their band, one must spend six years of study at the very least. Not to mention another series of post grads, courses, and other academic bars they need to go through to become expert.

This week marks the first year of my service as the spokeswoman. Just to refresh our memory. The saga that put me in this place now, started off last year by two positive cases of a mother and daughter Sita Tyasutami and Maria Darmaningsih, which in other light stirred debates among others on how the society must respond to this honesty and courage to openly share their sleepless days and history of their infections.

The infection cases have turned their lives upside down, especially how their privacies and even their neighbours’ were violated so violently by both the media and netizens, in the wake of announcement made by the government.

However, as days gone by it turned out that fear of stigmatization – as it happened before in early 2000s bird flu cases – was baseless because now we see people pouring helps and supports for neighbours and strangers who have to go through isolation period to recover from the infection.

Now we have seen countless of solidarity initiatives catching the society like good virus, helping those in need with daily meals to setting up online marketplace for micro, small and medium enterprises that are hard hit by the economic slowdown.

But perhaps, what Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo initiated in his province with “Jogo Tonggo’ program also inspired other provinces. Jogo Tonggo literally means watching over your neighbours. It’s so versatile that such can be used in many different context and situations under the same spirit of watching over or taking care of the needy.

The government has continued to seek ways to prevent more deaths and ensure people safe from this ordeal. Working closely with the COVID-19 taskforce from the beginning – and now with the PC PEN, we have increased our testing capacity from 10 thousand to more than 50,000 samples every day. Our testing laboratory has also grown to some 800 labs across the country. The testing is part of the 3T (Testing, Tracing and Treatment).

Such immense development was made possible with supports from tens of thousands of testers from the police and the military personnel. Newly recruited volunteers were also trained to support the work of health workers starting from the lowest level of health care providers, such as the puskesmas.

The pandemic has taken up nearly 90 percent of the service provided by healthcare facilities and recent report showed that it affected 40% of puskesmas in terms of workload and operational hours.

After Eid Fitri holidays, hospitals have been asked to increase their capacities by adding isolation wards and ICU beds at their premises. As of January 2021, we have almost 1000 referral hospitals, ten times more than the condition at the early phase of pandemic. Apart from hospitals, the Health Ministry has added more than 8.500 health workers to enforce the current line-up, which comprise of general practitioners, specialists, nurses and other supporting staff.

But those are our statistics. They can change overnight. With the ongoing capacity development for our human resources, we can eventually add up the numbers. To serve better and save more lives, there is no other way than enforcing the healthcare facilities with capable hands.

We have to also remember that this pandemic does not only affect those infected physically. Those who stay at home, religiously wear mask and wash their hands with soaps as suggested, get their share of impacts.

The economic hardship began to hit home and psychological challenges in dealing with surviving the day while helping children to study online. With all limitations and change in nutrient intake, children and other vulnerable population are exposed to health risks too.

Before pandemic a household could afford enough protein and other important nutrients for their children. When the breadwinners must stay at home temporarily or permanently and have their wages cut off because of less overtime or presence at works, such past daily menu seems to be a luxury nowadays.

As Puskesmas must adjust their works, the free regular immunization sets with additional nutrition intake bonus for newborns and children under five years old must wait at the back burner. Such condition could create health problems in the future. Hospitals become the last place to visit if children get sick for parents were afraid of getting near facilities where people with COVID were treated.

There are risks of increasing number of children with malnutrition, stunted cases and other mental problems unless we start our interventions these days.

That’s the bad news. The good news is Indonesians are resilient in times of crisis. They will not let the government to work alone.

Individuals and communities are the secret weapon behind the effort to overcome this pandemic. A nursing school student volunteered as a member of “Cobra” health response team at the Wisma Atlet. A stand-up comic stood in front of his phone to set laughter to their audience who were being isolated at homes or government facilities. The first ever female ambulance driver volunteer, Ika Dewi Maharani, a Surabaya resident, drives the ambulance to transport COVID-19 patients from houses to Wisma Atlet.

In Padang, West Sumatra a remarkable story has been told about Dr Andani Eka Putra, head of the diagnostic and infectious disease research of the University of Andalas. Driven by his dream to see the country and its people safe from this pandemic, doctor Andani used his personal saving of Rp 850 million to build a testing laboratory. He also invested the money in testing equipments. Once the laboratory facility ready, he opened the door and let people tested for free.

Entering the sixth month since the vaccination drive was kicked off, Indonesians lined up at the vaccination posts, not only to get inline to get a shot in the arms, but to accompany elderly, teachers, and religious leaders to get their share of vaccines. Cars, busses, and even pedicabs were used to transport senior people to the vaccinators.

This is how Indonesians personify the phrase no one is safe until everyone is safe.

We are one one the lucky ones. More than 90 million dosage of Coronavac from Sinovac, AstraZeneca of Covax and Sinopharm had landed at the Sukarno Hatta airport and made it to the arms of Indonesians.

And the good news doesn’t stop there. A handful of higher education institutions are set to pursue the development of Vaksin Merah Putih (red and white vaccine). Scientists from the Eijkman Molecular Biology Institute, the Indonesian Sciences Institute, Airlangga University of Surabaya, Gadjah Mada University of Yogyakarta, Indonesia University of Jakarta and Depok, Bandung Institute of Technology and Padjajaran University in West Java.

Such an achievement mean Indonesians are not easily defeated. The pandemic may bend us down a little bit, but it allows us to show our resilience. That is the silver lining of my communication to the public—that it is not numbers that matters the most, it is the people.


Tentang Komite Penanganan COVID-19 dan Pemulihan Ekonomi Nasional (KPCPEN) - Komite Penanganan COVID-19 dan Pemulihan Ekonomi Nasional (KPCPEN) dibentuk dalam rangka percepatan penanganan COVID-19 serta pemulihan perekonomian dan transformasi ekonomi nasional. Prioritas KPCPEN secara berurutan adalah: Indonesia Sehat, mewujudkan rakyat aman dari COVID-19 dan reformasi pelayanan kesehatan; Indonesia Bekerja, mewujudkan pemberdayaan dan percepatan penyerapan tenaga kerja; dan Indonesia Tumbuh, mewujudkan pemulihan dan transformasi ekonomi nasional. Dalam pelaksanaannya, KPCPEN dibantu oleh Satuan Tugas Penanganan COVID-19 dan Satuan Tugas Pemulihan dan Transformasi Ekonomi Nasional.

Tim Komunikasi Komite Penanganan COVID-19 dan Pemulihan Ekonomi Nasional