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Scrapping ID number requirement can be the first step in overcoming Indonesia’s vaccine gap

An elderly citizen receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Tangerang, Banten, Indonesia, in May 2021. Fauzan/Antara Foto

This is the last of four articles in the series on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) in Indonesia entitled “Data that Records and Protects All”.

As of October 10 2021, 100,059,481 Indonesian residents, or only about 48% of the vaccination target, had received their first jab of the COVID-19 vaccine. This means more than half of the country’s population, including children, still have not received even a single dose.

A requirement to produce the Single Identity Number (Nomor Induk Kependudukan or NIK) when registering for a vaccine jab has become a major obstacle in reaching the vaccination target. Other disincentives include the requirement to have each citizen’s current address printed on their Identity Card (Kartu Tanda Penduduk or KTP) to register for the jab.

The NIK factor is but one of several that have limited vaccine coverage. Other factors include inadequate vaccine supply, unreliable cold chain and supporting infrastructure, and the lack of skilled human resources.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Indonesia has dropped sharply since the peak of the last wave on July 24 2021, when 574,000 active cases were recorded. The total had dropped to 19,852 by October 14 2021, the lowest in the past 15 months.

According to the government’s report to the World Health Organization, Indonesia recorded a total of 4,228,552 cases from January 3 2020 to October 11 2021, with 142,716 deaths.

The number of cases might have declined consistently in the past few months, but Indonesians must not let down their guard. We must do everything we can to prevent another wave. The collective failure to do so in the first few months of this year — after surviving another wave at the end of last year — led to the massive rise in cases in June and July.

Aside from test and trace, masking up, maintaining social and physical distancing, and improving ventilation and air circulation in shared indoor places (such as classrooms, childcare centres, and offices), vaccination is another risk mitigation method with a great success rate for keeping the number of cases down.

Some Indonesian regions have relaxed their proof of residence requirement to receive the vaccine. It’s a bold move that others would do well to emulate. Sadly, the NIK requirement still restricts access to vaccination, especially for marginalised groups such as children and senior citizens from poor families.

Scrapping the NIK requirement for COVID-19 vaccine is the first step in overcoming a vaccine gap caused by residents — especially those in vulnerable groups — not being able to obtain identity documents. It would allow the government to provide more equal access to basic protection and services that are sorely needed now and in the post-pandemic future.

There is some good news in this regard. The Indonesian Health Ministry issued a directive in early August 2021 to increase vaccination rate among vulnerable groups and residents who don’t have a NIK. The directive was addressed to provincial, district and city health agency heads. Its aim was to improve synergy between the central and regional governments, the public and other stakeholders.

The Health Ministry’s circular and its partnership with the Home Affairs Ministry are commendable initiatives to make sure vulnerable people who lack a NIK can still get their vaccine jabs.

Scrapping NIK requirement protects vulnerable groups

Who can benefit from these initiatives? The 2020 National Social Economy Survey (Susenas) by the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics estimated 3.99% of the country’s population of 270.3 million still have not been issued with a NIK.

This means around 10.7 million residents — 4.3 million over-18s and 6.4 million children — run the risk of missing out on the COVID-19 vaccine.

The survey found poor families and residents in remote areas with limited health services are less likely to have the NIK.

This is because the Indonesian Civil Registry Service Offices that dispense identity documents are often located in the district capital. Residents in remote areas often cannot access their services.

Too far, takes too much time, too expensive and no reliable means of transportation are just some of the many reasons residents offer for not making the arduous journey to the offices. Other disincentives they mention for never applying for the NIK include a complicated process, rules that often change without notice, and not having the necessary supporting documents.

Many senior citizens, who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and are more likely to be hospitalised or die from the disease, and children have never applied for the NIK. Protecting these groups from serious illnesses and possible death from COVID-19 should be a priority considering the current high transmission rate and the fact that many regions have reopened for business and are allowing face-to-face contact again.

Low rates of NIK adoption are also found among marginalised but highly mobile — and hence hard to track and trace — social groups who are more likely to contract and spread the virus.

These groups include disabled people, children forced into marriage, people displaced by natural disasters or violent conflicts (including refugees and asylum seekers), and traditional communities or believers in traditional religions. There are also minority groups who often face stigmatisation (transwomen for example) and residents of care homes, prisoners and people forced to live in non-conventional households.

Residents who don’t have a NIK face multidimensional threats to their lives. Barriers to obtaining citizenship documents are often similar and related to barriers faced by vulnerable groups to get access to COVID-19 vaccine: distance, lack of information, and bureaucratic red tape.

As noted above, aside from people living under the poverty line and in remote areas, some highly mobile but hard-to-trace social groups also face many stumbling blocks when they apply for the NIK. It’s a problem that makes them more vulnerable to contracting COVID and more likely to spread the disease.

These vulnerable groups must be the number one target in the Indonesian government’s vaccination program.

A child receives the COVID-19 jab in Bandung, West Java, August 2021. Raisan Al Farisi/Antara Foto

Opportunities to obtain data of vulnerable individuals

The pandemic actually offers opportunities for the Indonesian government to find, collect data of, and provide services to vulnerable individuals. It can do this by combining its vaccination drive and the civil registry service using already available resources.

We have come up with a solution for an integrated vaccination and NIK issuance service to obtain and protect data of vulnerable residents.

There are three approaches that can be considered by the Civil Registry Service Offices and vaccine providers. These will need to be approved first by the Indonesian Home Affairs Ministry and the Health Ministry.

The first approach is based on speed and simplicity. An integrated vaccination and NIK service (data entry and issuance) can be a feature of pop-up vaccination centres in easy-to-access locations.

NIK-less residents can be invited to come to the vaccination centres at specified times when Civil Registry Service officers will also be present to record their data.

Additional staff can be employed at vaccination centres to record data of NIK-less individuals. The data can then be forwarded to the local Civil Registry Service Office to be processed. To keep track of vaccination status, individually numbered tickets can be issued. The NIK, when ready, will eventually replace these unique numbers.

The second approach involves active community participation. Civil registry services can be integrated with vaccine registration in a “bottom-up” design.

Regional Civil Registry Service Offices can provide basic population data that local health agencies can use to list vaccination targets. The basic data can be downloaded from the civil registry information system or from the population master files in village offices.

Village-level officers, including COVID-19 task forces, can verify and validate the data of NIK-less individuals. Their records can be kept in a separate folder from residents with a NIK.

The practice might be familiar in some villages that have already identified their vulnerable and NIK-less groups. This means it can be easily and widely adopted throughout the country.

The third approach would dispense with administrative requirements when special groups try to register for the COVID-19 vaccine. This must be done to make sure the government’s vaccination drive reaches groups in the community that face legal barriers to even make it to the registration stage. They might, for example, be rejected for not having a proof of address or other prerequisite documents like the Family Card.

The pandemic will end some day, but the obstacles vulnerable groups face as they try to improve their lot in life will only increase if the government does not put in extra effort to acknowledge their existence and provide them with the services and assistance they need.

By piggybacking on the vaccination drive, the Indonesian government has an excellent chance not only to protect Indonesians from the virus but also to discover, reach out to, and provide services swiftly and effectively to citizens who have not been issued with the NIK.

By ensuring every citizen is afforded the opportunity to claim their NIK and their citizenship papers, the government would have a better chance of leading a more effective recovery once the pandemic is over.

The studies and programs related to this article were conducted in collaboration between PUSKAPA and the Indonesian Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas), with the Australian government’s support through the KOMPAK (Governance for Growth) program. Previous related studies were carried out with support from AIPJ (Indonesia-Australia Partnership for Justice).

This article was originally published in Indonesian

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