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The leader charting his own course beyond COVID-19

In West Java, authorities have sought to take pressure off hospitals and medical workers by prioritising telemedicine and by shifting recovering patients into apartments and hotels to make room.

Kamil has also abruptly called off a range of infrastructure projects worth a combined 140 billion rupiah ($13 million) to make free medication available to the infected.

With his province under partial lockdown, like much of the country, his immediate concern is trying to withstand the ravages of the Delta variant.

But he is also looking ahead. A renowned architect before he entered public office first as mayor of Bandung, in 2013, and then as governor three years ago, Kamil did not need a pandemic to tell him that Indonesia’s health system was in urgent need of redesign to be able to better care for its population of 270 million.

He has a long-term plan, in partnership with two Australian companies, to vastly expand facilities in his province to ensure it is more properly equipped for years ahead.

“My population is around 50 million, twice the size of Australia. But when I look, the ratio of our infrastructure is not good.”

West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil

Via a $1.3 billion joint venture between state-owned enterprise PT Jasa Sanara and Australia’s Docta and Aspen Medical, Kamil wants to build 23 new hospitals and 650 fixed and mobile healthcare clinics across West Java, with the ground to be broken on the first of them by the end of this year.

“My population is around 50 million, twice the size of Australia,” he said. “But when I look, the ratio of our infrastructure is not good. I’ve inherited not-so-good ratios for public health services.

Dr Andrew Rochford describes West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil as a visionary leader.Credit:Aishah Kenton

“So while we are fighting off the virus since last year, we are preparing to have a more prepared future.”

Kamil, 49, has been cast as a possible presidential candidate for 2024, when the second of Joko’s two five-year terms comes to an end and Indonesia goes to the polls to elect a new leader. If Joko’s handling of COVID-19, which has been heavily criticised by public health experts, will be a legacy of his presidency, the West Java governor hopes his ambition to add 6000 hospital beds over the next two decades will set a standard for others to follow.

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“This is the beginning but if we succeed, you can imagine [all the] provinces of Indonesia will follow the West Java model,” he said. “Because typical Indonesia … they wait and see. As a leader, I am also a risk-taker. So I said I cannot wait for others.”

The origins of the Australian private-public deal date back five years ago when Kamil met Docta founder Dr Andrew Rochford, a medical practitioner and television personality who was setting up telemedicine and mobile clinics in Indonesia, and told the Australian of his desire to greatly improve healthcare.

South-east Asia’s largest country has one hospital bed for every 4000 people — below the World Health Organisation benchmark of one for every 1000 and an inadequacy that has been sadly exposed since last month.

While the virus rages, the Australian-backed project is about trying to close that gap.

“As a country that is close to us, we have an opportunity to really strengthen not only their healthcare system, but the health security of the entire region,” Rochford said.

“I have my team [in Indonesia] that I’m very close with and I’ve spent a lot of time in Bandung and West Java, and the challenges that they’re facing … I find it hard to sit and watch.

“This isn’t something that’s going to disappear. But hopefully, there is the ability to help at some stage.“

with Karuni Rompies

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