Despite recent corrective measures to contain the surge of infections and alleviate the burden of overwhelmed hospitals in Indonesia, more Covid-19 patients are quietly dying in self-isolation without even the chance of being treated.
Last month, a 56-year-old woman in Indramayu, West Java, was found dead in her own home after complaining of Covid-19 symptoms following a recent out-of-town trip, Tribunnews.com reported.
Neighbours found her body three days after she passed, with her distressed 70-year-old mother still holding her in her arms. The older woman would later test positive and pass away just a week later, while she also self-isolated at home.
Similar stories have been revealed in recent weeks, as the nation’s healthcare system buckles under pressure from the more contagious Delta variant.
The independently run community data initiative LaporCOVID-19 reported as of July 25 at least 2,641 deaths among Covid-19 patients self-isolating at home over the past two months, based on data gleaned from 84 cities and regencies from 17 provinces across the country.
The group’s cofounder Irma Hidayana said most of these patients had trouble accessing hospital care. “Many patients already had breathing difficulties … but it’s very difficult to find available hospitals to treat them,” Irma told a virtual press conference on July 25.
The nation’s bed occupancy rate (BOR) has been alarmingly high since early this month, with many regions reporting that more than 90 per cent of their hospital beds for Covid-19 treatment are occupied.
Local reports have pointed out that in-patients are being treated in corridors and that hospitals have set up emergency tents on their premises with thousands of Covid-19-positive people lying waiting for emergency care.
Occupancy rates in the current national epicentre of Java have seen a slight dip in the past two weeks as the government adds more beds to hospitals and mobility is more tightly controlled. However, BORs outside of Java have generally increased.
In the meantime, relatives of self-isolating patients are struggling to treat their loved ones at home as medicine, vitamins and oxygen supplies became harder to find.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo experienced this scarcity first-hand during an impromptu stop at a local apothecary in Bogor, West Java, over the weekend; none of the drugs made available for general Covid-19 treatment were to be found.
Supplies at hospitals were no better. Earlier this month, at least 33 patients being treated at the Dr Sardjito Hospital in Yogyakarta died because of a lack of oxygen supply.
Added to that the fact that hospitals are no longer able to provide optimal care for their patients, many people suffering from Covid-19 have opted to take their chances and stay at home, even without the help of caretakers.
Among them was Hajar, 60, from Klaten, Central Java, who despite underlying health conditions, refused to be admitted to hospital after testing positive for the virus.
Hajar, who self-isolated at home while her children were working out of town, received oxygen, medical supplies and food regularly from her caring neighbours. She died a just a week later.
“On June 6, her condition deteriorated. She struggled to breathe and we called a doctor to attend to her at home, but it was too late,” Amelia, one of Hajar’s neighbours, told the Jakarta Post on July 26.
To make matters worse, the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is blamed for the recent spike in cases, could cause a patient’s condition to deteriorate faster than with other variants, the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI) has found.
Ahmad Arif of LaporCOVID-19 said the number of deaths in self-isolation was just the tip of the iceberg and that the real number could be much higher, with the government underreporting deaths since the start of the pandemic.
“For example on July 20, the Malang administration in East Java reported no Covid-19 deaths. However, based on the reports from local gravediggers at least 26 people were buried according to Covid-19 protocols that day, nine of whom died in self-isolation,” Arif said last week.
The official Covid-19 tally released daily by the health ministry also does not include deaths in self-isolation, because it relies on data provided by regional administrations. Jakarta is still the only region to provide data on this category, said Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the ministry’s director for communicable disease prevention and control.
The number of elderly that have received two vaccine jabs is just over three million, still below 15 per cent of the national target.
Even the figures that are regularly published, experts say, are still not reliable indicators for discerning the real scale of the outbreak.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK