MSF Alarmed by Imminent Collapse of Health System in the Malukus, Indonesia

Djakarta/New York, December 30, 1999 — The religious conflict (Christian vs. Muslim) in the Malukus is spreading and engulfing ever greater areas and island populations. Given the escalating level of violence and lack of resolve or capacity on the part of the authorities to prevent or stop it, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is extremely alarmed that the vulnerable population, mostly concentrated in camps, will very soon be left totally unprotected and isolated.

Today, a significant percentage of the population no longer has access to healthcare. This is most notable in the healthcare system where MSF has a direct involvement; essential drugs cannot be delivered to many of the clinics that dot the island. People are often unable to access healthcare facilities because they are located in the zone of the other religion and health staff are unwilling to take the risk of crossing religious lines.

The weapons of the conflict in the Malukus have changed from swords and spears to guns and bombs, as evidenced by higher casualty rates. The percentage of gunshot wounds now exceeds 90%. Yet, there is a desperate shortage of physicians, which frequently leaves a hospital without a doctor. As no one comes to fill these critical positions, people continue to die for this reason.

"As the situation deteriorates, more people will die as they are left without care," says Richard Rowat, program responsible in Ambon. "The risks are getting bigger that children will die of curable diseases as the parents cannot get access to health care."

Presently there are in excess of 100,000 recognized Internally Displaced People (IDPs) throughout the Malukus and at least an additional 80,000 IDPs in the Sulawesi island group who are from the Malukus. Most of the IDPs have been forced to stay away from their homes for almost one year and there is little prospect for them to return in the foreseeable future. On the contrary, insecurity obliges them to continue fleeing.

MSF has been in the Malukus since its first assessment mission in February 1999, following the first round of religious clashes. MSF works with both Muslim and Christian communities. MSF provides water and sanitation for the IDPs, support for local health facilities in terms of drugs and trauma care equipment and a health surveillance system that monitors the incidence of diseases and deaths in the society.

MSF is the world's largest independent international medical relief agency aiding victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters, and others who lack health care due to geographic remoteness or ethnic marginalization in more than 80 countries.