COVID-19 Op-ed

Inequality in Pandemic: How the Government of Indonesia Puts Marginalized Communities into Jeopardy

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Dominique Virgil

The spike of COVID-19 positive cases in Indonesia since its
first finding in March 2 is exacerbated by the concerns of undetected mild
cases among the population due to the slow rate of COVID-19 testing as well
as how the Indonesian Government is attempting to contain the pandemic.
Indonesia is among 4 countries with the worst testing rate in the world. Only
36 in every million people are being tested, in comparison with Ethiopia,
Nigeria, and Bangladesh who are testing approximately 16, 18, and 19 people
for every million people.The low rate of testing has increased an even higher
concerns on whether the data provided by the Ministry of Health has
represented the real number of all COVID-19 cases. This occurred especially
after Anies Baswedan, Governor of Jakarta, stated in a press conference that
283 people in Jakarta had been buried according to COVID-19 protocols between
March 6 and March 29, while the Head of Jakarta COVID-19 Task Force, Catur
Laswanto, said that there were only 76 deaths in the region as per March
31.Instead of tightening the coordination with local governments and fixing
its sluggish response to a rapid responsive system, the Government of
Indonesia issued a statement which disputes the rich and the poor in a health
crisis. The spokesperson of COVID-19 management, Achmad Yurianto, explicitly
stated that, “the rich should take care of the poor so they can live without
hardship, whereas the poor can look out for the rich by not infecting them
with the virus”. This raises a question: Have the Government considered the
urban poor or other people in lower middle class within its response to
contain the pandemic?Effect of COVID-19 on Marginalized
Although all classes of society can be
equally infected by this pandemic, marginalized communities, especially the
urban poor, casual, temporary and informal workers are disproportionately
affected by the pandemic. The mobility of those workers from satellite cities
across Jakarta and their inability to be paid if they do not come to the
workplace makes them more vulnerable to be infected.Most of workers in
Jakarta reportedly came from other regions. During Eid Al-Fitr, around 15
million people in Jakarta usually go back to their hometown, according to the
survey last year. However, due to the effect of the pandemic to business
activities, some of them have returned to their families outside of Jakarta,
which again raises fears on bigger spread of COVID-19. Despite the high risk
of an uncontrollable spread in other provinces which is feared to overwhelm
healthcare capacity (often with worse conditions than Jakarta), there has
been no movement ban from the Central Government. The reasoning behind the
decision is to sustain Indonesia’s economy, as stated by Minister Luhut
Pandjaitan.Due to the population density in Indonesia, especially in Jakarta
and its surrounding satellite cities (altogether called as the Greater
Jakarta Area), it is feared that it has been too late for the Government to
contain the pandemic. As the epicenter of this pandemic, the Central
Government has just permitted the Government of Jakarta to impose large-scale
social restriction (PSBB) effective on Friday, 10 April 2020, after the cases
have reached thousands. The lengthy procedure that needs to be followed by
regions to impose PSBB also delays immediate response to suppress the spread
of COVID-19, especially among marginalized communities living in satellite
cities around Jakarta.There is no certainty nor guarantee from the Government
to ensure the livelihood of these vulnerable communities, since there are
disparities on how local governments are helping those communities to
survive. It is also apparent that the disparities of health capacity and the
access to healthcare of the marginalized communities across the regions are
yet to be included in the policy-making process to contain the pandemic.
There has been no clear coordination between the Central Government and the
local governments in collecting the data of those marginalized communities in
need of social safety net, which again raises doubts on its
distribution.State Duty to Protect, Respect, Fulfill the
Right to Health without Discrimination
The Government
of Indonesia has the duty to protect, respect, and fulfill the right to
health without discrimination at any form. Article 12.2 (c) and (d) of the
International Covenant on the Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
has obliged the Government to fulfill the right to prevention, treatment, and
control of diseases as well as the right to health facilities, goods, and
services.  Paragraph 17 of the General Comment No. 14 also states that
the Government must ensure participation of all parts of society in political
decisions related to the right to health.Further, Paragraph 43 (f) of the
General Comment No. 14 specifically states that the Government should “adopt
and implement a national public health strategy and plan of action, on the basis
of epidemiological evidence, addressing the health concerns of the whole
population.” In addition, it is also stated that “the process by which the
strategy and plan of action are devised, as well as their content, shall give
particular attention to all vulnerable or marginalized groups.” That being
said, the Government is obliged to consider the concerns raised by
marginalized communities, especially in measuring if a certain policy as part
of the pandemic’s response will jeopardize their right to health. Will
prioritizing economy over immediate measure to cut the spread and ensure the
health of our people negatively affect the marginalized communities?Towards a More Equal
Although the Government of Indonesia has
prepared a social safety net for people negatively affected by the pandemic,
such as laid-off workers, and other low-income workers, it will not be enough
if coordination with local governments is not tightened to ensure its fair
and comprehensive distribution. The Government also needs to take more robust
steps to conduct rapid mass test and loosen the procedure for the local
governments (especially in satellite cities) to impose large-scale social
restriction. Minimizing disparities among local governments in taking
stringent measures to restrict movement of people is also important. Last but
not least, the Government of Indonesia must ensure the access to health for
marginalized communities during the pandemic, while at the same time
gradually improve the health capacity of each region to conduct mass testing
for them or monitor their health condition in this


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