JAKARTA: Indonesia has started vaccinating its tribal communities against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after resolving an administrative hurdle that prevented them from accessing crucial jabs. The entire Indonesian vaccine target population was required to provide a citizenship identification number, known as a NIK, to register for the vaccine in the first phase of the national immunization campaign.
However, in its order issued on August 3, the Indonesian Ministry of Health said citizens without NIK could also be vaccinated. Tribes in the deep forest of Jambi and Riau provinces on the island of Sumatra were among the first to be vaccinated earlier this month after the order was issued.
They are part of around 70 million indigenous tribes, many of whom live in remote areas and maintain a nomadic and traditional way of life.
Gusrinety, dentist and head of a community health center in Penerokan village of Jambi sub-district in Bajubang, said she and her team vaccinated 21 people from the Suku Anak Dalam tribal community at the community health center. from the neighboring village of Bungku.
“We recorded their data manually. It was their first jab, and they were among those in their community who were ready to get the shot and were not afraid of injections, ”Gusrinety, who uses only one name, told Arab News.
She said it was a good start given the limited infrastructure and facilities, including vaccine supply, difficult terrain to access Bungku, and widespread misinformation about the vaccine.
The tribe members had to travel 2.5 hours by car from their location in the forest to Bungku, facilitated by a concession company operating in the forest, Gusrinety said, as the village is only accessible by four-way vehicles. driving wheels.
Another tribal community that has started receiving vaccines is the Sakai in Riau province, Rukka Sombolinggi, secretary general of the Archipelago Indigenous Peoples Alliance (AMAN), told Arab News.
More than 200 Sakai people, who live in the deep forest of Riau and, like many indigenous peoples, do not have identity cards, received their first dose on Saturday, according to the provincial administration.
The health ministry decree came after the Civil Society Coalition for Immunization Access for Indigenous Peoples and Vulnerable Groups, including AMAN, sent a letter to President Joko Widodo on July 29, asking authorities remove barriers such as the lack of NIK for the vulnerable population. of the country, including the native tribes.
AMAN, who represents around 20 million of the total indigenous peoples in Indonesia, said in the letter that as of July 21, only 20,000 members had been vaccinated against COVID-19, with the lack of NIK proving to be the main obstacle. .
“Initially, due to their remote and isolated location and local wisdom, indigenous tribes were relatively immune from exposure to COVID-19, but the emergence of the highly transmissible variant put them in a vulnerable position, “the coalition wrote in the letter.
He added that while the prerequisite of the NIK is essential for administrative purposes, the government must take quiet action given the devastating pandemic that has infected indigenous groups in Tana Toraja and north Toraja in South Sulawesi, Aru Kayau in North Kalimantan, Lamandau in Central Kalimantan and the Aru Islands in the Moluccas.
Sombolinggi said that even though the coalition welcomed the decree, it still requires a campaign to educate tribal people about the importance of vaccines and set up vaccination centers in places more accessible to indigenous communities.
“Having a NIK is a matter of keeping records of those who have received their vaccine, given the scarcity of vaccines. But ultimately, everyone who lives in Indonesia, regardless of their status and nationality, will need to be vaccinated, ”Hermawan Saputra of the Indonesian Association of Public Health Experts told Arab News.
The Indonesian government aims to vaccinate 208 million out of its 270 million inhabitants by the end of the year.
As of Tuesday, Indonesia had administered more than 84 million vaccines, including 29 million to those who had received two doses of the vaccine.
“We are working hard to reach 100 million injections administered by the end of this month,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a press conference on Monday.