Aid for a Second Wave

The pandemic peaked in Indonesia in July 2021, but the first half of August was still seeing a daily average of 20,000 to 30,000 new infections. Tzu Chi Indonesia has since February 2021 been offering inoculation services to help accelerate the country’s vaccination drive, and a pandemic center was opened on June 14, 2021, to assist in the treatment and isolation of infected patients. Five thousand oxygen concentrators and rice for seven million households are also being distributed to help people through the crisis.

People in Indonesia returned home in droves in mid-May 2021 to celebrate the Muslim feast day of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. That set the stage for the Delta coronavirus variant to quicken its spread, ushering in the second wave of the pandemic in the country. The number of daily diagnosed infections kept hitting new highs throughout June, and eventually topped 50,000 in a single day, on July 14, the highest number since the outbreak. Though the daily infection rate dropped slightly after that high, there were still 20,000 to 30,000 new infections every day through the first half of August.

The Indonesian government stepped up its efforts to vaccinate people amidst the new COVID surge. They also imposed the Emergency Public Activity Restriction (PPKM Darurat) in Java and Bali in early July. All people were asked to work from home or attend online classes. Restaurants were prohibited from serving sit-down customers, and only industries deemed essential were allowed to operate normally.

The government wasn’t the only organization to respond to the worsening pandemic in the country. Adding to the fight against the pandemic was Tzu Chi Indonesia. They had almost completed a new Tzu Chi medical facility—Indonesia Tzu Chi Hospital—so they strategically converted the 9th floor of the rear building into a pandemic control center. It opened on June 14 with 56 patient beds, a special operating room for COVID-19, an intensive care unit, and high-tech equipment, including that for computerized tomography.

Unfortunately, the patient beds there were occupied as soon as the center opened. Huang Li-chun (黃禮春), the executive general manager of the hospital, said, “Many patients insisted on being admitted simply because they were too scared, but their symptoms were not really serious. In this regard, we need to educate the public so that our patient beds are reserved for people who really need them.”

Given that the beds filled up so quickly, doctors could only prescribe drugs for those who were mildly sick and suggested that they go into self-isolation; for patients with moderate or severe symptoms, doctors either treated them or referred them to other hospitals.

A plane chartered by Tzu Chi Indonesia flew to Guangzhou, China, on July 24 to transport much needed medical equipment and supplies back to Indonesia, which was suffering from a shortage of such items during a second serious outbreak of COVID-19. Courtesy of Hualien Tzu Chi Headquarters
A hundred oxygen concentrators donated by Tzu Chi arrived at an air force base in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, for delivery to public hospitals. Zhou Yu-fa

The twins

The first patient admitted into the pandemic center was Mita Indah Sari, an expectant mother. Mita and her husband, Tomy, were married in 2017. A little more than three years after they tied the knot, they received the good news that Mita was pregnant. A friend recommended that she seek prenatal care at Tzu Chi Great Love Hospital, located in a housing village built by the foundation in Cengkareng, a district in West Jakarta. It was there that Dr. Andry Hondir discovered that Mita was pregnant with twins. Mita was surprised but thrilled.

As she entered the seventh month of pregnancy in early June, Mita began to experience headaches and nausea. She used her national health insurance to visit a community health center and learned that her systolic blood pressure was as high as 200 mmHg. She went back to Dr. Hondir for a further examination and was diagnosed with preeclampsia, formerly known as toxemia. If not treated in time, the condition could lead to serious—even fatal—complications for both the mother and the fetuses. The best course of action would be an early delivery. Although Mita was expecting twins and wasn’t full-term yet, the medical team recommended a Caesarean section.

Unexpectedly, Mita tested positive for COVID-19 before the surgery. The Great Love hospital did not have a dedicated operating room for patients with COVID-19, so the medical team there suggested that she go to another hospital. The couple checked with many hospitals, but none had a bed for her. Fortunately, the pandemic center at Indonesia Tzu Chi Hospital had just opened on June 14. With Dr. Hondir’s referral, Mita became the first patient there.

The next day, June 15, at nine o’clock in the evening, two pediatricians, an obstetrician, and an anesthesiologist performed a Caesarean section on Mita and delivered a pair of cute boys, bringing a dose of happy news during the heightened state of pandemic stress.

Tomy had been laid off three months prior to the birth of the boys. To help the couple, Tzu Chi paid Mita’s medical bill in full. “Thanks to the doctors at the Great Love hospital and Indonesia Tzu Chi Hospital,” the new father said. “Thanks also to the Tzu Chi Foundation. This is a miracle from heaven.”

In addition to establishing the pandemic center to help in the fight against the novel coronavirus, Tzu Chi offered a vacant building at the Great Love hospital—slated to be used as a dormitory for the hospital’s nursing staff—to temporarily serve as an isolation facility for COVID patients with mild symptoms. The second, third, and fourth floors can accommodate up to 63 people. The fifth floor is reserved for Tzu Chi employees diagnosed with the infection.

Dr. Adrianus Kanasis, leader of an anti-COVID team at the Great Love hospital, said that the hospital had also set up a negative pressure ward, providing ten beds for adults and two beds for children. The emergency room offered an additional 11 beds dedicated to the care of COVID patients.

A 43-year-old taxi driver who worried about getting infected at work receives a COVID shot at Tzu Chi Great Love School in Cengkareng. 

Tough it out

In order to curb the pandemic as quickly as possible, the Indonesian government implemented a large-scale vaccination plan, and even set their goal at a million vaccinations per day. Tzu Chi Indonesia began offering vaccination services as early as February to help increase the country’s inoculation rate. Three locations started participating in this service at different times, including the Jing Si Hall in Jakarta, a department store across from the Jing Si Hall, and the Tzu Chi Great Love School in the housing village in Cengkareng. A goal was set for each location to complete a thousand vaccinations a day.

To help the public feel comfortable and at ease when they go to receive their shots, the chairs on-site are spaced one meter (39.4 inches) apart. After participants have shown their ID cards and filled out declaration forms, the medical staff takes their blood pressure and temperature and asks about their health conditions—steps necessary to help assess if they are fit for the vaccination.

Medical workers from Tzu Chi Great Love Hospital help staff the vaccination site at the Tzu Chi school, where people wait in line in a corridor before entering a classroom in groups of five to receive their shots. The limit on the number of people entering the classroom at a time is to prevent overcrowding in the room. Six healthcare professionals from the hospital and 18 volunteers work together per day to pull off a vaccination session.

The pandemic center at Indonesia Tzu Chi Hospital opened on June 14, 2021. Its first patient was an expectant mother who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 (right, middle). She gave birth to a pair of twin boys (left) on the 15th. Left photo courtesy of Indonesia Tzu Chi Hospital

The Indonesian government successfully raised the vaccine coverage rate in Jakarta to 90 percent by August 17, the nation’s independence day. Tzu Chi Indonesia is also working to finish inoculating 300,000 people by the end of September. In addition to Jakarta, Tzu Chi offices in other areas in the nation, in support of the government, also provide vaccination services for the public. As of the end of July, 12 Tzu Chi locations had served as vaccination stations, inoculating over 114,600 people.

Lena, a waitress at a restaurant, said of the vaccine shot that she had just received at a Tzu Chi location: “Because we come into contact with a lot of people at work, our restaurant requires all employees to be vaccinated to protect ourselves and others.” Fendi, another vaccine recipient, said, “Thank you, Allah. I feel safer now after getting my shot. I can now breathe easier at work.”

Since the pandemic started in early March 2020, the Tzu Chi Indonesia branch has worked three times with businesspeople in the country to raise donations to help the poor through the pandemic. In July 2021, volunteers started distributing 35,000 tons of rice to seven million households. The branch is also distributing 5,000 oxygen concentrators to public hospitals in hopes of effectively reducing the local COVID mortality rate and helping patients survive the pandemic.

September 2021