Category: Health

Staying on the Job Eases the Pain, Cancer-Stricken Indonesian Official Says

The information chief of Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency was upbeat on Monday as he described the details of a personal disaster – his battle with an advanced lung cancer.

In a country where volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and forest fires are frequent, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho’s job is considered stressful enough even for a healthy person.

But Sutopo has insisted on carrying on with his day-to-day duties, fielding phone calls and text messages from reporters, as well as hammering out lengthy press releases – often from a hospital while undergoing chemotherapy.

“When I work I forget all the pain, even more so when my press conferences are attended by many journalists,” Sutopo told BenarNews during a visit to his spacious office in Central Jakarta.

His desk is stacked with paperwork and books with themes ranging from disaster management to religion.

“But when I don’t do anything, just sitting, I feel excruciating pain. I can hardly sleep at night,” said Sutopo, who has lost 20 kilos (44 pounds) in less than a year.

Diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in January, doctors said Sutopo, 49, could survive up to three years with treatment. The diagnosis shocked the man who has led a healthy lifestyle, including abstaining from smoking.

“The first thing in my mind was my two children,” he said.

“But I have come to terms with it. What I’m experiencing now has been ordained by God. I just have to live with it,” said Sutopo, a devout Muslim. “I hope that any good deed that I’m doing will be rewarded in the hereafter.”

Sutopo said the cancer had spread to the bones in his back. He has to undergo a regular procedure to remove fluid and blood from his lungs.

“It’s extremely painful,” he said.

On the job

The year 2018 has been an especially busy one for Sutopo, as earthquakes devastated parts of Lombok and Sulawesi islands between July and September, killing more than 3,500 people.

He has had to write press releases and update his social media feeds from his hospital bed.

“I have written about 500 press releases this year, so it’s more than one press release a day,” he said.

A network of local disaster agency officials and volunteers across the country have helped Sutopo by sending information on casualties, aid needs and photos and videos from disaster zones.

“Many of the 3,000 reporters on my list told me that the information I gave them was more than they expected. I try to give them as much information as possible, including videos and photos, so they don’t have to ask more questions,” he said.

Sutopo has an undergraduate degree in geography from Gadjah Mada University and a doctorate in environmental management from the Bogor Agricultural University, but had no background in communications or the media when he took the job.

He started off as a civil servant at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, where he did research on hydrology and artificial rain. In 2010, Sutopo was assigned to the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) as director of disaster risk mitigation, before taking the job as its head of information and public relations.

Warding off fake news

Apart from battling cancer, Sutopo said he often had to contend with sifting out fake content disseminated via social media.

Sutopo’s Twitter feed regularly debunks hoaxes and fake news circulating online about disasters, including videos of old volcanic eruptions being passed off as new, and chain messages that warn of impending earthquakes.

“As more and more Indonesians have access to the internet, fake news and hoaxes have become more prevalent in recent years,” he said. “They used to spread only via text messages, but now they become viral via WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook.”

Following a series of eruptions of the Mount Agung volcano on Bali island last year, alerts were raised to the highest level, leading many to put off traveling to Bali, where the economy depends on tourism.

“What I did was post photos showing people doing yoga or pre-wedding photos with erupting Mount Agung in the background, to show that Bali was safe, and only a small area was off-limits,” he said.

“People were scared because media reports made it as if that the whole of Bali was affected by the eruptions,” he said.

However, the internet and social media have also made it easier for him to spread awareness about disaster management, he said.

“Social media has been very effective in amplifying my messages,” said Sutopo, who has written several books about disaster management.

‘Undying spirit’

Sutopo recently benefitted from social media when he met one of his favorite singers.

Twitter users began using the hashtag #SutopoMeetRaisa to draw attention to his wish to meet the Indonesian pop star. The Jakarta Post reported that the pair met recently in a building where Sutopo had gone to do an interview and Raisa was promoting her new song.

Raisa told him to stay healthy and keep inspiring people, Sutopo told the newspaper.

Weeks earlier, Raisa responded to the hashtag with a tweet of her own, the Post reported.

“My Twitter today has #RaisaMeetSutopo all over it. I’ve read all the stories in your tweets, friends, and it made me feel like I’ve known Pak Sutopo for a long time. He’s loved by many. Keep your spirit and keep on inspiring, Pak Sutopo :)”

Sutopo also has the support of Indonesia’s leader.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo called him an inspiration to the nation.

“I appreciate Mr Sutopo’s dedication. And I was made aware about his condition today. His dedication to his work is extraordinary,” Jokowi told reporters after a meeting with Sutopo in October.

“It’s really inspiring to us all that while he is in ill health, he has an undying spirit to do the work that he has been doing for years,” Jokowi said.

The story was first published on BenarNews 

Paws up: Indonesian government to ban dog and cat meat trade

Fien Harini, who hails from Solo in Central Java, still remembers when Ireng, her mongrel pet dog, disappeared and never returned home.

“I cried for days. In Solo, when a pet dog doesn’t return home, you can be sure the dog is stolen to be slaughtered for meat and will end up in one of those dog meat satay stalls,” she said.

“Dog meat dishes purported to boost virility and have healing qualities are popular delicacies in Solo. But there is not enough supply so pet dogs, especially mongrels, are highly targeted by poachers,” she added.

In Jakarta, meat derived from dogs is served in dishes offered by specialty eateries called lapo. Customers can identify such establishment if they see the number B1 – a code for dog meat – on the signage.

The trade of dog and cat meat remains rampant in some parts of Indonesia, where dog meat dishes are traditional delicacies for some ethnic and cultural groups. However, dog and cat meat are not included among consumable meat products regulated by the country’s food law.

Roughly 7% of Indonesia’s 260 million population consume dog meat, according to an estimate drawn by the Dog Meat Free Indonesia (DMFI) coalition, which has investigated the illegal trade. It is campaigning to abolish dog meat trade, end animal cruelty, promote animal welfare and halt the spread of zoonotic diseases.

Its effort appears to be gaining ground, as the government has said it plans to issue a regulation that will ban dog meat and other meat derived from cats and exotic animals.

A national forum on animal welfare held in Jakarta earlier this month agreed that dog meat is not for human consumption and its commercial distribution should be banned.

Syamsul Ma’arif, director of veterinary public health at the agriculture ministry, said a ministerial regulation to that effect was in the pipeline

“The regulation will emphasise on banning practices that are violations of animal welfare. It will not regulate consumption so much for those whose culture that recognize it,” Ma’arif said.

He added that it would take some time to finalize the regulation since it will have to accommodate many interests, but he expects the ministry to issue it within this year.

DMFI representatives who attended the forum played a video made during their country-wide investigation into the cruelty behind the dog meat trade, which shows just how bad the dogs are treated.

Ma’arif acknowledged the way dogs are handled in the trade amounts to “torture.” He also said the government clearly forbids consumption of dog meat.

He told officials of veterinary and livestock agencies attending the forum that animal cruelty and the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks from the illegal meat trade could drive animal rights-conscious foreign tourists away from their regions if they continue to allow this practice.

This could be detrimental to the government’s efforts to lure more foreign tourists to improve state revenue.

The prospect of a government crackdown was hailed by DMFI, which comprises local and international animal rights groups including Animal Friends Jogja (AFJ), Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), Four Paws, Change for Animals Foundation and Humane Society International.

“This is a huge leap for animal welfare in Indonesia. We really appreciate that government has finally acknowledged our concerns,” AFJ director Bobby Fernando said.

JAAN co-founder Karin Franken said it was high time that the trade was abolished since its existence undermines the government’s pledge to eliminate fatal zoonotic diseases such as rabies by 2020.

While Jakarta has been declared rabies-free, the disease is endemic in 25 out of Indonesia’s 34 provinces.

She said however, there is a steady supply of dog meat to lapos in the capital city. They source the meat from a supplier who goes twice a week to catch stray dogs and kidnap pets in neighboring towns in West Java.

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Photo: Dog Meat Free Indonesia (DMFI)

As the meat trade is illegal, the whole process of preparing dog meat dishes in those restaurants goes unchecked without proper health screening, slaughter process and carcass disposal.

“The supplier can bring 30 to 40 dogs per trip into Jakarta. This could put the city on the risk of rabies outbreak,” she said.

A dog meat supplier in East Jakarta who goes only by one name, Yuri, said he priced dog meat by the kilogramme. He declined to say what he charged but said that it was competitive prices quoted by another supplier in Central Jakarta.

Wiwiek Bagja, a senior veterinarian and former chairwoman of the Indonesian Veterinary Association, said the government should stress to regional governments that they have an obligation to enforce national legislation on animal welfare.

Despite the absence of specific regulation banning inter-regional dog meat distribution, she said local administrations should strictly supervise such movement to curb the spread of zoonotic diseases.

“Unstipulated and unspecified movement of dogs is proven to have contaminated rabies-free regions,” she said.

“There is a much bigger risk of zoonosis epidemic compared to the mythical benefits of eating dog meat. We can’t let the interest of a small fraction of people to spoil the country,” she added.

Dog meat consumer Kristian Purnomo opposes the pending regulation, saying dog meat dishes are a long-standing tradition and part of Indonesia’s diverse cultures that should not be abolished.

He eats dog meat dishes, which he says warms his body and have softer texture. He also consumes other exotic foods such as snake meat from time to time, especially when he travels to regions where they are part of the local diet.

“We just have to be discreet about it. I understand that people object to it because dogs are cute and cuddly pets and are not livestock. I love dogs and have a pet dog, too,” he said. 

“But what about chicken, cows, and other livestock? Will people campaign against eating them when someday they are not categorised as livestock and considered as cute pets?” Purnomo said, adding that to him a dog meat dish when served is just like any other dish from chicken or cattle.

The campaign against dog meat consumption, he said, could undermine deeply rooted local traditions, citing efforts by one NGO to abolish centuries-old traditional whaling in Lamalera, a coastal village in Lembata Island in East Nusa Tenggara province.

The island’s land is mainly vast savanna and not suitable for farming, so villagers have turned to the sea for subsistence. Whaling there is steeped in a set of customary rules, such as a restriction on hunting pregnant whales.

“Let’s just appreciate it with discretion accordingly as a local tradition,” he added.

This story was first published in Bangkok Post

West Java family live with dead relatives for two years

A woman and her two children lived with the corpses of her husband and a third child for two years in Indonesia’s West Java province, local media reported.

The discovery was made when a health worker came to the family’s house in Cimahi district on Tuesday to check on the husband, who had not been seen for more than two years, Detik.com reported.

“[The widow] explained that they did not bury them because she had received a revelation from God through an angel that they would return to life,” local police chief Sutarman was quoted as saying.

The family initially refused to open the front door, but relented when the worker returned with a soldier and local officials, the news portal said.

Inside, authorities found two skeletal bodies, covered in blankets.

The remains belonged to a 84-year-old man and his daughter, 50. They were believed to have died of illness in January and December 2016, respectively, local police said.

Neighbours said they had smelled the stench for two years but the family had never allowed them to enter the house, the reports said.

Sutarman said autopsies were not conducted because there were no signs that they were the victims of violence. The woman and her two children would undergo psychiatric examinations, police said.

Repentant tattoo artist on crusade to remove ink

Sandi Widodo used to be a prolific tattoo artist with a self-described wayward lifestyle, until he decided that it was not the life he wanted and re-embraced religion.

Today, he runs a tattoo removal clinic near the Indonesian capital Jakarta for Muslims who have returned to Islam, charging little to nothing for the service.

 

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Sandi Widodo, founder of Tattoo Hijrah Removal, sits at his clinic in Serpong

“I had an established tattoo studio when I began studying religion and realized that tattoos are haram (forbidden),” says the 31-year-old, himself sporting intricate tattoos all over his body, including one on his left temple and neck.

“I kept thinking about people I have made tattoos for,” he says. “So I made a resolution to remove them for those who have abandoned their old ways, which, like mine, often involved drugs and alcohol.”

In 2014, he sold his tattoo kits and studied in an Islamic boarding school before returning to his parents as a devout Muslim. After consulting a doctor, he started an online fundraising campaign in July to purchase laser tattoo removal machines, which cost about 3,000 dollars each.

The public’s response to the campaign was unexpectedly strong and in less than two weeks he managed to raise 90 million rupiah (6,300 dollars). He then converted his tattoo studio attached to his parents’ suburban house on the outskirts of Jakarta into an ink removal clinic, equipped with three laser machines.

So far, more than 200 people have come to his clinic to have their tattoos removed, Sandi explains. They include punk rockers, musicians and gang members.

“Some of my friends in the tattoo community have followed my steps, but there are also those who stayed away from me because they thought I had become weird,” he says.

Repentant Muslims who want their tattoos removed for free must memorize 50 verses from the Koran that focus on God’s attribute of mercy and grace. Many in the world’s largest Muslim nation consider permanent tattoos forbidden in Islam, arguing that the practice inflicts unnecessary pain and is a form of deception.

“People want to remove their tattoos for a lot of reasons, such as bad designs or inability to get jobs, but we only help people who have shown repentance,” he says.

With no money to have their tattoos removed safely, some people have gone as far as using a hot iron, injuring themselves badly in the process, he says.

Laser treatment to remove tattoos is considered safe, but it can leave superficial skin wounds.

Sandi says he himself has not been able to remove all of his tattoos and has only undergone two sessions of laser treatment. “It takes about two weeks for the blisters to heal from the last treatment,” he admits.

Azri Rachman, a former rock band vocalist with tattoos of his parents’ portraits on both arms among images of a skull and rose, has undergone two sessions at the clinic. The 30-year-old father of two has completely abandoned music and is now a businessman selling clothing printed with Islamic messages.

Wearing a beard, a pair of glasses, a white shirt emblazoned with the writing “I don’t follow trends” and pants ending above the ankles, he still looks more like a hipster than a born-again Muslim.

“It’s painful,” Azri says of the laser treatment. “But it shouldn’t discourage people who want to be closer to God.”

Azri says that, as a band member, he lived a lifestyle that he was “too ashamed to recall.”

“One day I got tired of it all and told my mother, who has stood by me even when I lost my way, that I would start praying again.”

Ahmad Zaki, a social worker who founded a charity group called Punk Muslims, runs a mobile clinic offering tattoo removal services to those who have found their way back to religion.

“A tattoo is a sin that is visible until you die, unless you remove it,” says Zaki, during a tattoo removal clinic at a mosque in Purwakarta, about 100 kilometres east of Jakarta.

“You don’t have to remove it if it’s already there, as God is all forgiving, but it’s better if you can,” he says.

Andini Erisa, who was among nine women who took part in the tattoo removal session in Purwakarta, says she wanted to do away with a star on her right arm and a ring around her ankle.

“I’m getting married next year,” the 22-year-old says. “A three-year-old girl once told me that she wanted to have a tattoo like mine because it was beautiful.”

“I don’t want my future children to do what I did.”

Bali seeks to curb dog meat trade

Authorities on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali are seeking to curb the sale of dog meat, an official said on Friday, after an investigation by an Australian animal protection group revealed the cruel treatment of dogs at the hands of traders. Continue reading “Bali seeks to curb dog meat trade”