Indonesian President’s Mother Dies of Cancer as Nation Grapples with COVID-19

Victor Mambor and Kusumasari Ayuningtyas
Jayapura and Klaten, Indonesia
200325_ID_Jokowi_1000.jpg President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo adjusts his face mask while visiting the 2018 Asian Games athletes’ village in Jakarta which has been converted into a hospital for COVID-19 patients, March 23, 2020.

President Joko Widodo announced Wednesday that his 77-year-old mother had died of cancer and told his cabinet ministers not to travel to Central Java to pay respects but to stay in Jakarta to focus on the national health crisis over the coronavirus pandemic.

Jokowi, as he is called, traveled late Wednesday to his hometown of Solo where he said in remarks at a funeral home that Sudjiatmi Notomihardjo had died.

“For the past four years, she has suffered from an illness, namely cancer,” he said.

“During those hard times, the deceased, all of us, with the support of doctors, tried and endeavored to seek treatment. But God wanted something else,” he said separately, in an Instagram post.

Jokowi asked for prayers for his mother “from afar,” and thousands of Indonesians posted condolences.

“It has been a rough year for you, sir, my deepest sympathy,” wrote one Twitter user.

The Indonesian president has been consumed in recent days by efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, announcing benefits for laid-off workers, cancelling school exams, touring hospital wards, giving pep talks and lecturing citizens about “physical distancing.”

Presidential spokesman Fadjroel Rachman said cabinet ministers had been told to remain in Jakarta because the funeral Thursday would be a family affair, adding they should focus on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Wednesday, Indonesia had reported 790 confirmed infections, 104 of them new, and a total of 58 deaths. That death toll is the highest in Southeast Asia and represents a mortality rate above 7 percent.

More than 20,800 people have died and nearly 459,000 have been infected worldwide, according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gives remarks about the death of his mother, Sudjiatmi Notomihardjo, in Solo, Central Java, March 25, 2020. [Kusumasari Ayuningtyas/BenarNews]
Indonesian President Joko Widodo gives remarks about the death of his mother, Sudjiatmi Notomihardjo, in Solo, Central Java, March 25, 2020. [Kusumasari Ayuningtyas/BenarNews]


Indonesia is not under “lockdown” like some of its neighbors, but in the vast, decentralized archipelago nation, many cities and localities have declared emergencies and imposed restrictions. Both Jakarta and Solo are under a state of emergency.

Authorities in Papua province announced Wednesday they would shut down airports, sea ports and entrances on the border with Papua New Guinea, effective Thursday, imposing the most stringent measures anywhere in Indonesia. At least three cases have been confirmed in the region where health services are poor.

Experts said Indonesia’s high COVID-19 mortality rate reflects underreporting of infections as well as relatively poor quality of health care.

“It is likely that the number of positive cases is eight to 10 times as many,” said Joko Mulyanto, an epidemiologist at Jenderal Soedirman University and a doctorate student at University of Amsterdam.

“[T]he death rate also depends on the quality of health care,” he added. “In, China 49 percent of those who were admitted to the ICU survived. In Indonesia, almost all of them died.”

He warned that hospitals could be at full capacity by mid-April and raised alarms over how Indonesia would handle the pandemic if large numbers of health workers become infected.

“If 30 percent of hospital staff could not work, the health system would collapse,” he said.

A professor of public health at University of Indonesia made a prediction about COVID-19 cases.

“I estimate that the peak will take place in a month. Now it is still very early,” Hasbullah Thabrany told BenarNews. He noted that Indonesia has only 1,200 lung specialists.

“This disease focuses in the lungs. But in the next few days the number of positive cases might be equal to the number of lung specialist doctors,” he said.

A spokesman for the Papua COVID-19 Task Force, Silwanus Sumule, said that on Wednesday, in addition to its confirmed cases, the province had 36 patients with coronavirus symptoms and 728 people under surveillance, including five foreigners.

He described the situation in Papua as “worrying” because of inadequate health facilities, including a lack of test kits.

“To examine the samples now we need seven to 10 hours per sample. We have information that we will receive assistance in the form of 2,400 rapid test kits from the Health Ministry. This is what we have been waiting for,” Sumule said.

Of 45 hospitals in Papua, only 15 have been designated as referral hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients.

“If we take 20 percent of the population of Papua, there could be 800,000 people infected by COVID-19. Of those, 160,000 would have to be treated in hospitals and 8,000 of them would have to be put in isolation,” Sumule said.

Ronna Nirmala in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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