COVID-19: Indonesian Mental Health Association (IMHA)

For persons with psychosocial disabilities locked inside overcrowded social care facilities in Indonesia, a patient outbreak of COVID-19 would be "like a killing field in the institutions," says Yeni Rosa Damayanti, chair of the Indonesian Mental Health Association (IMHA). In some facilities, twenty to 30 residents are crammed into one room, she says, and staff members are not taking the necessary precautions to prevent the virus from getting in and spreading. “They go without any protocols to disinfect themselves, and they go without masks,” says Damayanti, “and [if] one of the residents got infected, it’s very easy to spread out.” Since many of these residents are also at the “end of the line” when it comes to accessing information - often deprived, for instance, of mobile phones and news from the outside via a newspaper or television - they may not even know the virus exists or how to protect themselves from it.

Interview with Yeni Rosa Damayanti by Jody Santos

In Jakarta alone, Damayanti knows of some 2500 persons with psychosocial disabilities locked inside public and private facilities. She has no idea if or how many may be infected with the coronavirus. Social care administrators, particularly at private institutions, haven’t been forthcoming about what is actually happening behind closed doors. “There is no effort to conduct the COVID-19 test to the staff and to the residents, and my organization, you know, because we are also afraid for our safety, we cannot go there to check out how’s the condition,” says Damayanti, “so what we are doing right now is trying to advocate to get the government to do something – at least to go check.”

Last month, IMHA outlined their concerns in an open letter to the Indonesian government. They also recently created a video campaign, “The Forgotten People,” which, through images and words, shows why social care residents in Indonesia are particularly at risk right now – unsanitary conditions, close living quarters, a lack of protective supplies like masks and gloves, and inadequate nutrition, which can compromise the immune system. In addition, some human rights groups have pressured the government to release prisoners during the outbreak, and IMHA hopes to convince these groups to advocate for the freedom of persons with psychosocial disabilities trapped inside these facilities as well.