The Health Risk Of Indonesia’s Rising Death Toll

Health warnings were issued in Indonesia following the rising death toll in the wake of the recent natural disaster. The warnings were issued to the individuals trapped within the afflicted zones of Petobo and Balaroa following the recent mudslides in the region. The message warns of the potential contamination that is likely to result from contact with dead bodies still being discovered, due to the rising death toll in the area. The other concerns for health came from the varied conditions of the bodies that have been uncovered in the region, necessitating aid-workers be vaccinated before stepping into afflicted zones.

The rising health risk of the situation has been a concern of Yusuf Latif, the current spokesman for Indonesia’s search and rescue operations. “Most of the bodies we have found are not intact, and that poses a danger for the rescuers. We have to be very careful to avoid contamination” Mr. Latif said in a recent interview with AFP news, adding that “We have vaccinated our teams, but we need to be extra cautious as they are exposed to health hazards.” The grim state of Balaroa was exemplified by Sergeant Syafuruddin, who stated that “There are no survivors here. We just find bodies, every day.”

The ongoing health risks that are posed by the recent disaster is something that could impact not only the rescue personnel but also survivors that are still close to ruined zones such as Petobo and Balaroa. The casualties that have already been confirmed within the region are disheartening. But the dead pose a potential health risk to the survivors if they aren’t recovered swiftly. The bodies can contaminate surrounding water supplies if they are not properly disposed of, and can also infect others through body fluids with diseases that the dead could have been afflicted with prior to their death, such as Hepatitis B.

Balaroa and Petobo are sub-districts of Palu, the provincial capital of Indonesia located on the island of Sulawesi. On the 28th of September, it was struck by an Earthquake with the tectonic shifts being violent enough to also cause a Tsunami. Currently, the loss of life from the disaster is calculated to be approximately 1,649 with over 70,000 homes destroyed in the Palu area. The earthquakes also caused soil liquefaction within the surrounding soils of some areas, such as Petobo, leading to mudslides that buried much of the neighbourhood. These mudslides especially have made excavating trapped individuals far more difficult and bring with them their own health risks to survivors.

While corpses do not on their own produce diseases, infectious agents are able to impact surrounding environments if they are left unattended. Not only that, but infection and diseases carried by the host before death can linger. With the death-toll already confirmed to be higher than the 1,200 killed in the 2006 earthquake, this presents a greater necessity in recovering the dead before any of the previously mentioned health risks have a chance to materialize in the troubled region. While aid is now finally reaching the desolated regions, it must be seen to that failing health of the survivors does not falter at the risk of an already terrible disaster escalating further.

Joshua Robinson