Dengue Fever in Indonesia

Dengue Fever in Indonesia

By: Tonny Christian Tunya, Compassion Indonesia   |   Posted: November 19, 2004

Dengue fever has ravished Indonesia for more than 30 years. The incurable disease often affects poor families who lack access to medical care. Compassion's Medical Fund helped more than 200 children, like Muntamah pictured here, access medication and treatment.

In the West when children fall prey to a treatable illness such as the flu, they're taken to a clinic or hospital, a doctor gives them medicine and they return home. But recovering from illness is rarely routine in developing countries.

Dengue fever has haunted the north coast of Java for years and has again ravaged this city's most vulnerable: infants and children in poverty. Dengue fever is caused by a bite from an infected aedes mosquito. More than 60,000 people in the 14 most populated provinces in Indonesia have contracted the disease. Nearly 700 people have died. The disease is incurable but medical treatment can ensure survival. Without treatment, however, the victim has only a 50 percent chance of living.

Because of Indonesia's vast size, spread out among 17,000 islands, access to medical care for the poor is hampered. Children like Muntama, a Compassion-assisted child who lives in a poor area in the central Java province, teeter perilously close to death even when a routine disease strikes because they lack access to doctors and clinics. Other children perish. The following story tells the hope and the heartbreak of Compassion-assisted children who juggle poverty and its obstacles to survive one of the worst outbreaks of dengue fever Indonesia has had since the disease surfaced there 36 years ago.

Grounds for an Epidemic

During the dry season, the north coast of central Java province, near the city of Jepara, is extremely hot and dry. But when the rainy season comes, standing water begins to stagnate, creating a breeding ground for the mosquitoes that carry the disease.

Muntamah, who attends the Eliezer Student Center (IO-909), lives in a house surrounded by forests and fields. And the land around the teenager's home turned to swamp this year during the rainy season, attracting the deadly mosquitoes. Muntamah, 13, became one of the nearly 200 Compassion-assisted children who contracted the fever this spring. Because her family is so poor, Muntamah almost didn't survive.

A Harrowing Survival Story

Since her father's death three years ago, Muntamah's mother has worked as a subsistence farmer, clothes washer and in many other jobs just to keep the family alive. There is no money to go to the hospital, so when Muntamah contracted dengue fever her only treatment was five days spent at the nearest clinic where there were no doctors, just paramedics.

Still, Muntamah did receive assistance from Compassion's Medical Fund for treatment of the disease. After a week of treatment that included receiving 13 bottles of intravenous liquid, Muntamah finally recovered from the dengue fever that also attacked 20 of her friends at the project.

Compassion's Medical Fund issued more than $13,000 this year to help Compassion-assisted children affected by the disease receive medication and treatment. Dengue fever is treated mostly with intravenous liquid to combat dehydration caused by the disease. In extreme cases, victims receive blood transfusions. It is clear without assistance many children would not have survived. Even so, despite interventions, tragically, three Compassion-assisted children died from the incurable disease.

A Mother's Prayer

Friska Yuliawati's mother's eyes well up when she explains the sequence of events that led to her precious little girl's death. Friska, age 9, who attended the same Compassion-assisted project as Muntamah, was among the three Compassion-assisted children who died from dengue fever.

When Friska's family discovered she had fallen ill, her parents took her to the nearest clinic. Because the clinic was already full of dengue fever patients, the family was forced to rush Friska to another clinic, located about five miles from their home. Instead of help, they found that clinic also overwhelmed with dengue fever patients.

Friska was finally rushed to the city hospital for medical treatment but it was too late. She died the next day.

"I prayed beside my daughter," said Friska's mother in a recent interview. "I told her that Jesus loves her and to not worry about anything. I know she is in heaven now with our Lord Jesus," she added.

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