Indonesia beefs up health funds as hospitals reach critical condition

Indonesia is battling one of Asia's worst Covid-19 epidemics, fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant first identified in India.
Indonesia is battling one of Asia's worst Covid-19 epidemics, fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant first identified in India.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia’s government on Monday (July 5) agreed to boost its coronavirus healthcare budget and introduce telemedicine services to non-critical patients, in an effort to reduce pressure on a health system choked by days of record Covid-19 cases.

Indonesia is battling one of Asia’s worst coronavirus epidemics, fueled by the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant first identified in India.

Authorities on Monday reported 558 new deaths, a second day of record fatalities, and 29,745 new infections, the 10th day of record high cases in the past 15 days.

In an effort to reduce pressure on a healthcare sector inundated by record numbers of Covid-19 cases, Indonesia will provide free telemedicine services to coronavirus patients with mild symptoms, its health minister said on Monday.

With records most days last week and deaths surpassing 500 on several of those, Indonesia is battling one of Asia's worst Covid-19 epidemics, fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant first identified in India.

Remote services will be provided from Tuesday by telehealth firms such as Alodokter and Halodoc and will include free consultations and medication delivery, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a news conference.

"Positive Covid-19 patients can get medical services on time without waiting in line at hospitals, so that hospitals can be prioritised for patients with medium, heavy, and critical symptoms," he said.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati on Monday said health spending would be raised again to 193.93 trillion rupiah (S$18 billion) for coronavirus treatment, testing, tracing, drugs, vaccines and protective gear.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 75 per cent nationwide as of July 2, the health ministry said, but some hospitals on the most populous island of Java have reported over 90 per cent capacity, including in the capital Jakarta.

Oxygen shortages have also been reported, which authorities attributed to distribution hurdles and limited production capacity.

Sardjito hospital on Java said 63 patients died after it nearly ran out of oxygen at the weekend, although a spokesman could not determine whether all were coronavirus patients.

Mr Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, a senior minister assigned to tackle the case spike on Java and Bali, said oxygen supplies would be ramped up for hospitals and imported if necessary, but said the surge was "under control".

Local newspaper headlines on Monday showed alarm over the crisis, with "Java's health system paralysed" the Jakarta Post's front page headline in capital letters and "SOS medical services" on the cover of Koran Tempo.

Data initiative group Lapor Covid-19 said 311 people have died in self-isolation from the coronavirus in the past month, demonstrating what it said was a failure of the country’s healthcare system.

"The government needs to acknowledge that this is an emergency situation and needs to apologise or show some empathy," said Ms Irma Hidayana, public health expert and Lapor Covid-19’s co-founder.