JAKARTA: Indonesia has begun inoculating its tribal communities against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after resolving an administrative hurdle that barred them from accessing the crucial jabs. All of Indonesia’s vaccine target population were required to provide a citizenship identification number, known as NIK, to register for the vaccine in the early phase of the national vaccination drive.
However, in its order issued on Aug. 3, Indonesia’s Health Ministry said citizens without NIKs could get inoculated too. Tribespeople from the deep forest of Jambi and the Riau provinces on Sumatra island were among the first to be inoculated earlier this month after the order was issued.
They are part of an estimated 70 million Indigenous tribespeople, many of whom live in remote areas and retain a nomadic and traditional way of life.
Gusrinety, a dentist and head of a community health center in the Penerokan village of Jambi’s Bajubang sub-district, said she and her team had inoculated 21 people from the Suku Anak Dalam tribal community at the neighboring Bungku village’s community health center.
“We recorded their data manually. It was their first jab, and they were among the ones in their community who were willing to get inoculated and were not afraid of injection,” Gusrinety, who uses one name, told Arab News.
She said it was a good start given the limited infrastructure and facilities, including vaccine supply, the challenging terrain to access Bungku, and widespread misinformation about the vaccine.
The tribespeople 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 reachable by four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Another tribal community that has begun receiving vaccines is the Sakai in Riau province, Rukka Sombolinggi, secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), told Arab News.
More than 200 Sakai people, who live in the deep forest of Riau and, like many Indigenous people, do not have ID cards, received their first dose on Saturday, as per the provincial administration.
The health ministry’s decree came after the Civil Society Coalition for Access to Vaccination for Indigenous Peoples and Vulnerable Groups, including AMAN, sent a letter to President Joko Widodo on July 29, asking authorities to remove barriers such as a lack of NIKs for the vulnerable population of the country, including the Indigenous tribes.
AMAN, which represents about 20 million out of the total Indigenous people in Indonesia, said in the letter that as of July 21, only 20,000 members had been vaccinated against COVID-19, with a lack of NIKs proving to be the main obstacle.
“Initially, due to their remote and isolated location and local wisdom, the Indigenous tribes were relatively safe from being exposed to COVID-19, but the emergence of the highly transmissible variant has put them in a vulnerable position,” the coalition wrote in the letter.
It added that while the NIK prerequisite is essential for administrative purposes, the government must take discreet measures given the ravaging pandemic that has infected Indigenous groups in Tana Toraja and North Toraja of South Sulawesi, Aru Kayau of North Kalimantan, Lamandau in Central Kalimantan, and the Aru Islands in Maluku.
Sombolinggi said that while the coalition welcomed the decree, it still requires a campaign to create awareness among the tribal people on the importance of vaccines and setting up vaccination centers at locations that are more accessible to the Indigenous communities.
“Having a NIK is a matter of record-keeping of those who have received their jabs, given the vaccine scarcity. But eventually, everyone who lives in Indonesia, regardless of their status and nationality, will have to get vaccinated,” Hermawan Saputra from the Indonesian Public Health Experts Association told Arab News.
The Indonesian government aims to inoculate 208 million, out of its 270 million population, by the year-end.
As of Tuesday, Indonesia had administered more than 84 million jabs, including 29 million to those who had received two doses of vaccines.
“We are working hard to reach 100 million jabs administered by the end of this month,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in a media briefing on Monday.