Thu, 19 Jun 2003

Health workers to help eradicate diseases

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Ministry of Health will deploy up to 80,000 medical workers in 76,000 villages next year across the country to support the government program to eradicate communicable diseases and improve community health.

"The health workers could be medical attendants or nurses. They will be assigned mostly to remote areas," the Minister of Health, Achmad Sujudi told a hearing with House Commission VII on health and population affairs on Wednesday.

The workers will be located close to the community, enabling them to educate and motivate people to lead a healthy lifestyle and identify people with communicable diseases who need attention.

Under the program, communicable diseases refer to malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis and upper tract respiratory infections.

Sujudi said eradicating malaria or dengue fever was more difficult than other communicable diseases like the recent Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which briefly became a global threat.

"In the case of malaria and dengue fever, mosquitoes are vectors. And it would be next to impossible to totally remove the insect from the environment," he said.

"With the assignment of these health officers, we expect the eradication program to be more fruitful."

In many cases, he said, tuberculosis patients stop taking their medication when they feel better, although they are supposed to have continuous treatment for six months.

"To eradicate tuberculosis, the health workers will help the patients to stick to their medication," said the minister.

In Bangladesh, said Sujudi, people were recruited to remind tuberculosis patients to take their medication. For that they received compensation for each patient who recovered.

Sujudi said the program would cost the government about Rp 1.6 trillion (US$188.2 million) for health workers' wages.

"It will cost a lot, but in terms of the anticipated results it is reasonable," Sujudi said.

The health workers will be treated as temporary nurses (PTT) with a monthly wage of about Rp 2 million.

According to the Indonesian family health survey in 2001, the number of people suffering from malaria reached about 15 million per year, while some 30,000 died as a result of the disease.

While for tuberculosis, Indonesia has the third largest incidence of the disease after India and China. It is estimated there are about 583,000 people suffering from tuberculosis in Indonesia.