Siti Fadilah Supardi, at the time this article was written, was Indonesia’s Minister of Health. Her bufoonery was a constant source of amusement to those of us who appreciate black humour. At around the same time as this article appeared she was busy shutting down research into dengue fever which kills thousands of people, mostly children, in tropical countries. She claimed the reasearch being carried out by her own staff , national university medical researchers, and aided by the United States Navy was “clandestine”, despite the fact that it was open, aboveboard, and done with the assistance and participation of her own Ministry.
As a doctor, she should be aware that there is treatment for those with her condition.
In the comment section I have posted a letter to the editor that was received by The Globe, as I found it thoughtful, intelligent and reasonable. Utterly off the point, but reasonable just the same. Most of the letters my writing inspires tend to be rants or death threats; this was a refreshing change.
The Jakarta Globe
May 19, 2009
The Thinker: Siti’s Comedy Routine
Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari has clearly absorbed and applied the wisdom of Marx in her political efforts. Not Karl Marx, but rather the truly great Marx — Groucho. Watching our honorable minister address the public in that supremely self-confident manner, spouting absurdities, is so much like watching Duck Soup that every time Ibu Siti appears on camera, I find myself expecting her to pause for Chico’s piano solo.
In the movie that our minister of health clearly took as a blueprint for high-level political posturing, Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the president of Fredonia. The movie focuses largely on the abrasive, hostile, hilariously deluded president of an insignificant, bankrupt country. The president takes everything as an insult and eventually goes to war with neighboring Sylvania over an innocent remark he took as an affront to his nation.
Ibu Siti first came to worldwide prominence about a year ago when Indonesia was in a state of heightened tension as the result of the apparent likelihood of a bird flu pandemic. She had published a book titled “It’s Time for the World to Change: The Divine Hand Behind Avian Influenza,” in which, among other Marx-like accusations, she claimed the virus was being “weaponized” in American biological weapons labs. Not exactly a gem of literature or even reason, the tome was endorsed by our very own president.
The book had that deadpan seriousness while making the kind of absurd statements that Groucho Marx had perfected back in the 1930s. The international community, just to be safe, treated the assertions as though they might have been made by someone who was rational but misguided. Frighteningly, the minister of health is occasionally taken seriously, perhaps because of her credentials as a medical doctor — a cardiologist, in fact.
The difficulty with dealing with apparently deranged people in positions of authority is determining how to respond diplomatically when they make truly ridiculous statements with a straight face. Siti, for example, in her book expressed profound concern that the World Health Organization laboratories were sharing their bird flu virus data with Los Alamos New Mexico national laboratory, apparently because that’s where the Manhattan Project was based. “Whether they use is it to make vaccines or develop chemical weapons, would depend on the need and interest of the US government. It is indeed a very dangerous situation for the destiny of humanity,” she deadpans.
At the same time, she refused to provide virus samples to researchers working on a vaccine, because she was convinced they would succeed in developing one but then refuse to share any profits with the blood donors’ nation. The WHO, of course, was dismayed and somewhat at a loss as to how to answer charges that they were complicit in developing a biological weapon of mass destruction and that they were seeking to profit from the vaccine.
It’s a year later and the new danger is a related virus, the H1N1 strain, or swine flu. Enter Groucho Fadilah Supari. Among her inputs is the objection that the WHO was precipitous in raising the status of the alert since, apparently, she was unaware that Mexico, the United States and Canada were different countries, meaning that the virus had crossed international borders and was poised to become a pandemic. Nevertheless, she assured the people of Indonesia that there is no need to fear H1N1 because our hot, tropical climate will not support the virus. This no doubt came as quite a surprise to the Mexican swine flu patients as they sweltered in their hot, tropical hospital beds. Despite our health minister’s assurance that there is no way the virus could survive the climate, her ministry has prepared 100 hospital beds to accommodate any potential H1N1 patients.
Her best input thus far on swine flu has to be her reassurances that there is little to fear, uttered in tandem with her speculations that the disease killing people all over the world is, in fact, a bio-weapon. “I’m not sure whether the virus was genetically engineered but it’s a possibility,” Siti reassured us, returning to her conspiracy motif. They must be pretty lame evil geniuses there in Los Alamos if they developed a bioengineered virus but one that only works in climates similar to that of the United States.
One can’t help but be glad that the upcoming elections will herald the establishment of a new cabinet, and if there is any sanity left in the country, she will have to go. So as Groucho might have said, “Don’t go in a huff, Doctor. A minute and a huff would do just fine.”