Dr Onny Suwardi Redjo MPH still remembers the shock on young doctors’ faces when they heard Papua still had frambusia’s sufferers. “Is it true frambusia still exist?” said Suwardi copying question from some of the new doctors.
Frambusia is not as severe as HIV/AIDS. It is easily treated with routine treatment. “This illness still exists because sanitation and health system in Papua are lacking,” said the Disease Prevention Head of Papua Province year 2000-2006.
While Frambusia is almost non-existent in other areas, few Papuans still suffer from it. And not just Frambusia, filarial, leprosy and worms are common occurrences in local people.
Papua’s demographic with its swamps, bad sanitation and low understanding on how to treat disease have all contributed to the existence of diseases in Papua otherwise rare elsewhere.
When you are unfit, this illness can easily enter and attack human body. “It is very simple. If you take your medication diligently, you will get well. But it takes time. About one year,” said Suwardi Redjo (57), who now works as a consultant in NGO Improvement Plan Support to Community Health Science.
On the other hand, if the sufferer did not receive appropriate treatment, then the disease can be lethal. “For example, tapeworm. It can attack your stomach and even your brain cyst,” explains the holder of Master Public Health from Institute of Tropical Medicine Prince Leopold University, Belgium.
These inappropriate treatments are the main obstacle in handling health issues in Papua. Not to mention how health issue became politicised.
Suwardi did not grow up hoping to be a doctor. His father, mantri Redjo, who is the second generation “Jamer”, pushed Suwardi to attend medical school at Airlangga University, Surabaya,
“I finally concentrated on this area and became the second “Jamer” to be a doctor, after doctor Kery Kartosen who is a relative,” said the man who was born in Merauke on 3 November 1950.
He told of his fondness to accompany his father while working. “Father as a health officer used to take me in-out of villages, to exterminate mosquitoes or to conduct mass treatment. Maybe that experience influenced my decision to work as a doctor. Actually, I wanted to be a mechanic when I was young.”
“Jamer” is the abbreviation of Java Merauke or Javanese origins who were born and raised in Merauke. This is a common calling for those Javanese banished by the Dutch. They did not join the transmigration programme.
Suwardi’s grandfather came to Papua on exile by the Dutch. “Granddad and his group worked as constabulary of colonial period with General Van Heutz during Aceh War. Granddad was considered a deserter and traitor so was sent to Merauke in the early 1900,” said the man who was born, grew up and has worked in Papua.
They overcame tough times at the beginning of they arrival in Papua that they managed to survive and settle there. Suwardi predicted there are about a thousand family of “Jamer” at the moment. Many were offered to be taken back to Java or Netherlands at the end of 1949 and 1960.
“My children are all born in Papua. Therefore, I am a Papuan and proud to be third generation “Jamer”,” said Suwardi while laughing. Today, there are many arisan (social gathering) for “Jamer” in many Papuan cities, including Jayapura.
As the third generation of a Javanese family settling in Merauke, Suwardi had no difficulty in adapting with local community, especially Marind tribe.
“Ah, it’s not difficult to befriend the local. As long as we know the way to their hearts. Even my family has an adopted child from Marind,” said Suwardi.
For his love of community and profession, Suwardi chose to stay working in Papua. He was head of puskesmas (community health centre) Bintuni during 1982-1984, and health department head of Yapen Waropen district.
For years to follow, Suwardi acted as field doctor, especially in his area of interest, to exterminate and prevent contagious diseases. The main problems lie in lack of quality food consumption, lack of healthy surroundings and lack of integrated treatments.
Now, in the “open” world, Suwardi who likes off road vehicles and a skilled mechanic feels deeply concerned about community health and method to eliminate contagious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
Suwardi is still active reaching his retirement age. “We even put up an ad on paper on mass elimination of elephantiasis disease in Jayapura.”
As someone who was born and grew up in Papua, Suwardi admitted the tendency of people drinking alcohol. “This is a habit. They feel comfortable by drinking. It’s not easy to eliminate this habit, it requires sufficient efforts,” said the doctor who does not want to live in Java even though his wife is from Surabaya, East Java.
Several alcohol-related cases caused people to lose control and have free sex. This is the trigger of HIV/AIDS spread. He understand there is no instant remedy for this issue.
“But I admire my Papuan friends. They are not afraid of injection. They feel treatment is incomplete without injection,” he said.
By: Agnes Rita Sulistyawaty