Interview: Terawan Agus Putranto

What strategies have been employed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic with regard to public health?

TERAWAN AGUS PUTRANTO: It is imperative that all Indonesians join the fight against the spread of Covid-19. Since the virus is spread primarily through contact with infected persons, we have strongly advocated in favour of social distancing throughout the country. First and foremost, we have asked Indonesians to stay at home.

President Joko Widodo’s decision to introduce an additional budget of Rp405.1trn ($28.6bn) to fight Covid-19 provides a foundation to protect public health, safeguard the national economy and stabilise the financial system – all of which will be fundamental to Indonesia’s recovery. Of this funding, Rp75trn ($5.3bn) was allocated for health care. This allows for further purchasing of medical equipment such as test kits and ventilators. The funding will also be used to provide incentives for our health care workforce.

As a nation, we must pay attention to the health and well-being of at-risk groups that have a high potential of contracting Covid-19. This includes the elderly and those with chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, it is imperative to ensure the safety of our health workers.

Our regional and local governments are playing a leading role in supporting this cause. We are working closely with these officials to better serve the needs of our people. Integration, cooperation and synergy is being fostered across all levels of government. The participation of regional governments allows for a better understanding of grassroots issues, while local officials can help to ensure that communities are better served. These benefits will extend beyond the Covid-19 period.

In what ways have these efforts been reflected in the health care system’s performance?

PUTRANTO: Boosting the capacity of our hospitals was key. We increased capacity in preparation for tackling the virus, opened isolation rooms and tightened health protocols for all staff. We reiterated that hospitals need to be equipped with adequate medical infrastructure in accordance with health standards and must also have additional health support personnel such as the many final-year medical students who volunteered to support hospitals. It was also necessary to enable the public to purchase face masks and hand sanitiser, while also ensuring that our medical personnel have sufficient resources within hospitals.

Our Covid-19 task force worked to improve efficiency and capacity to tackle the disease, and worked with research agencies and laboratories to accelerate polymerase chain reaction swab testing and mass rapid testing. With this in mind, we approved regional laboratories to test for Covid-19. The improved efficiency, capacity and technical knowledge will remain a part of our health care system once the pandemic subsides.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of information distribution channels in promoting public health awareness?

PUTRANTO: We need local governments, community officials and religious leaders to work together in the delivery of public health education campaigns. We worked closely with various ministries and key stakeholders to ensure that responsible, accurate, fast and reliable information was made available to the public during the Covid-19 pandemic. The public needs easy access to information, and to that end we created a one-stop official source of virus-related information. A “hoax buster” was also created to debunk misinformation. The site offers real-time statistical information on the number of positive cases.

Digital platforms Gojek, Halodoc and Tokopedia are also involved, offering online screening and advice. These initiatives, together with the government’s efforts, underline the importance of promoting reliable information and highlight the benefits of stakeholders working together to combat threats to public health.