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Mar '08

Tigor Silaban And Irian Jaya

A Story Of Irian Jaya

Tigor Silaban tirelessly treats his patients in the wilds of Papua. Untamed nature and the most basic medical equipment do nothing to diminish his dedication.

One day in the depths of the Jayawijaya jungle in Papua, a wild boar ran amok after being wounded by a hunter’s arrow. The enraged animal furiously slammed into an old man who happened to be looking for edible tubers in the jungle. “The boar’s tusks ripped at the old man’s entire body,” said Tigor Silaban. The victim’s mouth, eyes, nose, and chest were bleeding profusely.

As a doctor, Tigor Silaban couldn’t just stand around doing nothing. But, what could he do? Surgical instruments couldn’t possibly be found in the middle of the jungle. Tigor had just spent two weeks trekking in the interior, visiting remote tribes. His supply of medicines, antiseptic, and alcohol solution had been depleted. Finally, one of the locals offered him a sewing needle and thread. Tigor used them to put in stitches, in the absence of surgical needles and suture materials. “I used only a clothes’ needle and thread,” he said.

Fortunately, these simple emergency measures did the trick. Two weeks later, the old man was already able to descend the mountain to visit Tigor. As an expression of his gratitude, he presented Tigor with a handmade arrow that was specially designed, meant for a hero or a respected figure.

Tigor deserves the thumbs-up. He also deserves to be one of the figures chosen by TEMPO in its “Indonesia: Down but not Out” edition.

As a doctor—who is now an epidemiology specialist—Tigor has the potential to carve himself a brilliant career in any big city, with excellent remuneration. Instead, the father of two, Bonar, 18, and Binsar, 15, has willingly spent 24 years—about half his life—in Papua.

Born in Bogor, West Java, 49 years ago, he says: “I intentionally sought a job that was tough and full of challenges.”

When he graduated from the school of medicine at the University of Indonesia, Jakarta, in 1978, he immediately enrolled for a job in Papua. The situation in Irian Jaya—Papua’s former name during the New Order—was tense, but that didn’t daunt Tigor. Two doctors at the hospital were senselessly killed, but Tigor forged ahead anyway. He even asked to be assigned to the most dangerous area, the Oksibil District. But for the sake of everyone’s safety, the local authorities turned down the request.

Tigor’s first assignment was at the Community Health Center (Puskesmas) in the Bokondini District, Wamena Regency. His marriage to 41- year-old Joan Maureen Tielman marked the starting point of the doctor’s exploration of the Papuan jungles.

Tigor works nearly 24 hours a day. In the morning, he takes care of administrative details; in the afternoon, he goes to the villages; and at night, he performs all sorts of surgery. “I do childbirth, heart surgery, spinal operations, even opening up the skull,” he said. Even major surgery is carried out using primitive equipment. Unfortunately, Irian Jaya has never enjoyed anything close to an adequate health budget.

In addition to a miniscule budget, doctors in Papua must also deal with exceedingly difficult terrain. Papua is three times the size of Java, encompassing an awesome range of nature, including swamps, deep ravines, steep precipices, and snow-capped mountains. Far-flung areas are sparsely inhabited, with a population of only 2.5 million people, comprising transmigrants and 312 indigenous ethnic tribes scattered all over the jungles. There’s even one, the Kiw tribe, which only has 11 members. Most of them are completely isolated, unaware of the existence of the modern-day world and must be “pulled” in extremely patiently.

Tjondro Indarto, a doctor who’s been working in Papua since 1982, understands well the tough natural conditions of Papua. A close friend of Tigor, he is based in a neighboring village and tells of the extremely heart-rending medical conditions of the people in several villages. Local custom forbids them from building decent housing. The land in the region is covered by a mirror-thin layer of ice. “Furthermore, to relieve oneself,” said Tjondro, “they have to dig up the layer of ice.”

There’s another custom that triggers a serious problem. In the depths of Papua, there’s still a blood taboo culture: mothers who are about to give birth are isolated in the jungle because their blood is considered to bring illnesses and bad luck. This results in a high maternal fatality figure, namely 1,161 per 100,000 living births. This is three times the national average.

Untamed nature, inadequate dwellings, poverty, and complex traditions combined, provide an environment that creates serious health problems. This list doesn’t include rampant prostitution with foreign fishermen carrying HIV, which triggers AIDS, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Respiratory infections, malaria, maternal and infant mortality and HIV/AIDS also contribute their share of problems.

With such a mountain of ills to cure, the doctors certainly have their work cut out for them. “I refuse to be beaten by nature, limited budget, people’s poverty, or their backwardness,” added Tjondro Indarto.

Tigor has never lost his enthusiasm to create a better Papua. Nearly every week, he invites his staff to tour the mountain villages and to listen directly to the people’s complaints, for the sake of designing a down-to-earth program that actually works, and not just looks good only on paper.

Tigor’s tremendous spirit even survived his return to Jakarta from 1986-1988, to study more about epidemiology at the University of Indonesia’s school of medicine. Every night, he stood by at the communications radio, which connected him to his colleagues and staff in Papua. Complaints, personal chats, medical discussions continued as usual, although Tigor was thousands of kilometers away. “I think,” said Alfons Manibui, “this is something rarely found in our leaders.” Alfons, Tigor’s staff at the Office of Health Affairs in Papua Province, Jayapura, feel proud to be involved.

Today, Tigor Silaban is an established official at the Papua Provincial Health Office. This doesn’t necessarily mean less work, though. Tigor is concentrating on establishing several nursing schools and academies at Manokwari, Sorong, Wamena and Mimika. A complex and worthwhile project, with a ridiculously small budget of a paltry Rp4 billion. Put another way, that’s only Rp1 billion more than the luxury house belonging to Indonesian Attorney General M.A. Rachman, which is currently under the spotlight.

Sumber : Ulin’s Blog @ Vois.Com 

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