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A Catholic doctor's unselfish love for Papuans

Fransiskus Sudanto treats dozens of patients almost for free each day despite having officially retired 16 years ago.

 
Dr. Fransiskus Xaverius Sudanto examines a patient at a clinic in Abepura in Papua. (Photo by Veni Mahuze, ucanews.com)
Jayapura: 

Although he officially retired 16 years ago, Dr. Fransiskus Xaverius Sudanto, 78, has continued helping the disadvantaged in Papua by offering them what is probably the cheapest private medical services in Indonesia.

The Papuans called him "Doctor 1,000" for charging patients only 1,000-2,000 rupiah, which is less than 10 US cents.

He said many people have already lived a difficult life and it is his calling as a Catholic to help and free them from any burden. “As a doctor, I should not put any extra burden on them with expensive medical services,” he said.

He said many Papuan families struggle to meet daily needs such as paying for their children’s education. “When they get sick, their burden is increased, so asking them to pay a lot means we don’t have a heart.”

Born in Karanganyar, Central Java, on Dec. 5, 1941, Sudanto gained his medical degree from Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta in 1975. Soon after graduating, he was appointed head of a clinic in Asmat district in Papua province. There he lived among Asmat tribal people for six years before moving to Abepura where he lives now.

He said working with the people of Asmat was his introduction to understanding Papuans and the difficulties they face.

Every day people ate sago — an extract from the spongy part of the sago tree — cooked using firewood. The limited sources of nutrition, along with poor sanitation, meant they also suffered from various diseases.

“Life during those days was so difficult and medicine was hard to get,” he said. Luckily, he managed to get medicines from Catholic missionaries who worked in the region.

Things became a bit better when he moved to Santa Odilia Hospital in Bayun, also in Asmat district. There he got an X-ray machine from a German doctor that enabled him to provide better treatment for the Asmat people. In return he taught some German doctors about tropical diseases.

While at Odilia — founded by Sacred Heart Father Antonius van der Wouw — he was assisted by a Catholic nun who specialized in handling childbirths.

Respect for the doctor grew among Papuans because of his readiness to visit people in villages, which was something many other physicians were reluctant to do. Regular contact saw a bond form that is still strong to this day.

Passion for the people

One would expect Sudanto to be taking things easier in “retirement” but each day dozens of people come to see him in his small surgery at a clinic in Jayapura. Their illnesses vary greatly from straightforward infections to more life-threatening diseases such as HIV-AIDS and cancer.

“I will not let them leave without having my help,” said Sudanto, who says he wishes more people would share what they have with less fortunate people. “It doesn’t hurt to show compassion for the weak. Because only compassion can narrow the gap between the rich and poor.”

Fransina Meraudje, 39, from Abepura district, said she has known the doctor since high school. "Even after I got married, my family still go to his clinic," she said. "Thanks to him I managed to recover quickly from a bad bout of malaria."

Because of his passion for helping people, Sudanto is still sought after by hospitals and clinics, including Abepura Public Hospital and Abepura Mental Health Hospital.

Willy Fester, a colleague at Abepura Mental Health Hospital, said Sadanto’s simplicity has inspired many people. "He lives a simple lifestyle but he possesses a strong commitment to helping those that need it,” he said.

Abepura district chief Dionisius Deda said Sudanto’s commitment to the poorest of Papuans is well recognized.

“His presence and service have made a difference, particularly for the less privileged,” he said, adding that even people who have money seek his help.

“It is not about money alone, it’s his expertise. It makes people believe in him,” said Deda, who added that he wished more Sudanto-like doctors would emerge and be willing to work in Papua.

This expertise is something that the doctor likes to share, which is why Sudanto also teaches at various universities in the provincial capital Jayapura, including Cenderawasih University and the University of Science and Technology Jayapura. He also teaches about health care and a healthy environment at the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy, also in Jayapura.

The head of Papua’s Population and Family Planning Board, Charles Brabar, said people love Sudanto’s dedication.

"This is what Papuans want from a doctor. It shows them that he loves them and does his job wholeheartedly,” he said. “He is a doctor who works according to God’s will.”

Source: UCAN

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