Februari 16, 2016

Orang Rimba Under Increasing Threat, High Levels of Hepatitis B and Malaria

JAMBI'S INDIGENOUS people, known as the Orang Rimba, are facing the threat of extinction. Other than suffering from constrictions and damage to the forests that have long served as their natural habitat, the Orang Rimba are also being hit with infectious diseases, especially hepatitis and malaria, both of which have been recorded at extremely worrying levels.

A study by the Research and Technology and Higher Education Ministry's Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology found that among the Orang Rimba in Bukit Dua Belas, the prevalence of Hepatitis B reached 33.9 percent, and the prevalence of Malaria reached 24.6 percent. "The prevalence of Hepatitis B and Malaria in the Orang Rimba is called a hyper-epidemic," Eijkman Institute Deputy Director Herawati Sudoyo said at the Warsi Indonesia Conservation Community in Jambi on Wednesday (10/2/2016).

Samples were taken from 583 members of the Orang Rimba out of a total population of 3,640. The survey was conducted in mid-December 2015, covering 12 communities in three regencies, namely Sarolangan regency, Tebo regency and Batanghari regency.

"If no swift comprehensive action is taken, it is feared that the population will go extinct," Eijkman's malaria unit head Syafruddin said. Compared to other regions in Indonesia, the prevalence of Malaria among the Orang Rimba is considered very high. The current Malaria situation of the Orang Rimba is similar to that of Papua 20 years ago.

According to Syafruddin, citing an Annual Parasite Incidence (API) report, the average number of Malaria cases in 2013 in Indonesia was around 1.38 per 1,000 people, while in Jambi the average number was 0.8 per 1,000 people. Meanwhile, according to research conducted by Eijkman, the prevalence of Malaria among the Orang Rimba is 24 cases per 100 people, or 240 cases per 1,000 people.

Eijkman hepatitis unit researcher Meta Dewi Thedja said the prevalence of Hepatitis B among the Orang Rimba was also extremely high. Based on a 2013 Basic Health Research, the proportion of Hepatitis B in Indonesia was 21.8 percent, while the proportion in Jambi was 9.3 percent. "A prevalence of hepatitis reaching 8 percent within a population is categorized by the WHO [World Health Organization] as a serious epidemic," he said.

Chronic Hepatitis B infections can trigger cirrhosis and carcinoma in the heart. In fact, the WHO has reported that 20 percent of heart cancers are caused by hepatitis. Compared to other cancers, heart cancer is the second leading cause of death with 745,000 people per year. Lung cancer, the leading cause of death, kills 1.59 million people a year.

A Lack of Access to Healthcare

The discussion of the results of the research was attended by Orang Rimba community chiefs from Bukit Dua Belas as well as officials from the Jambi Health Agency. The research was conducted between Eijkman and Warsi in order to map the health of the Orang Rimba after a number of deaths recently occurred in the indigenous community.

Gentar, the leader of the Orang Rimba community in the Makekal Hilir area, hoped that the research results would encourage the government to provide the Orang Rimba with medications. "We have never had a community health center [puskesmas]," he said.

Meanwhile, Tumenggung Nggrip, the leader of the Orang Rimba community in the Kedundung Muda area, cursed the plagues that had struck his community. Hepatitis and Malaria are just two of a number of diseases that his community was suffering from. Many members of his community have died of other diseases.

According to a Kompas record, acute respiratory infections and pneumonia were the main causes of death among the Orang Rimba in 2015. Most of the patients were under the age of 10.

Dian Augustina Rozy, the head of the Jambi Health Agency's health service, said that the agency would study possible intervention measures to overcome the health problems of the Orang Rimba.

"Tomorrow [Wednesday], the health agencies of three related regencies will discuss the steps to be taken," she said. Her team has not yet studied the diseases that have spread throughout the Orang Rimba community. The agency has yet to look into the death of 14 Orang Rimba people on the border of the Batanghari-Sarolangun regencies last year.[Ahmad Arif/Irma Tambunan]


"Orang Rimba under increasing threat, high levels of Hepatitis B and Malaria", Kompas on-line, February 11, 2016.

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