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SUKU MENTAWAI UPDATE

I’m really enjoying being back in Mentawai. In particular, trekking about the forest with my good friend Aman Masit Dere. He hasn’t been this energetic in years. The medicines are working and his health slowly recovering. It’s so pleasing.

Sadly this outcome is not common here for people suffering from tuberculosis. Most others that I’ve met while passing through the remote government settlements are slowly losing their battle. I feel compelled to take all of them down to the health clinic or to the hospital on the mainland, but it’s just not feasible. Nor is it sustainable.

Instead, I try and offer support by explaining their illness and the role of western medicine in a way they seem to comprehend. I tell them “there are two types of diseases: Mentawai ones, which can be treated using Mentawai medicine and healing ceremonies; and foreign ones, which require foreign medicines. Tuberculosis is a foreign disease. Please, you must trust the medicines and instructions they give you.”

My pleas are heartfelt – but not without shame. I’m asking for their trust when I know distribution of the product I’m trying to sell is not reliable. Their response is always the same: “I’m still waiting for the health clinic to send more medicines to the village.” It’s heart breaking. TB requires a 6-month treatment, at minimum, and missing even one day of the meds not only voids the entire course, but allows the bacterium to become resistant to the medication; which, if spread, would likely devastate their community.

I do visit the health clinic in the port town, repeatedly. I show them photos of people dying in the remote settlements and plead with them to send medicines more regularly. They nod with some degree of enthusiasm but very little seems to change. Clearly the TB program needs strengthening here, but the challenge is finding a member of the community or health department who is willing to take charge and action. It’s a tricky (and complex) situation.

On a lighter note – which was my intended purpose for this piece, sorry – our work with Suku Mentawai and the Cultural and Environmental Education Program (CEEP) has been progressing particularly well over recent weeks. For all the details and photos check out our update – Cultural research, education and a Mentawai dictionary – on the Suku Mentawai website.

Heading home to Australia now to finalise the film’s production. More on this shortly. Have a lovely day. Thanks.

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