Health Ministry Forms Team to Help ‘Tree Man’

JAKARTA ~ The Health Ministry has formed a team of specialists on the president’s orders to treat a villager dubbed the “Tree Man” because his body is covered in bark-like warts.

Dede, who is known by one name and whose growths on his hands are so long they cover them in long, root-like tendrils, featured in a television documentary this month.

Ministry spokeswoman Lily Sriwahyuni Sulistiyowati said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had seen the documentary and asked the ministry to do what it could to help the 35-year-old father of two.

“We have formed a team of 18 specialists to handle Dede’s case,” she said, adding that they wanted to work with Anthony Gaspari, the US doctor brought in to examine him for the Discovery Channel documentary.

“We will cooperate with him by long-distance communication, or if he wants to join our team, that would be good. We need to think about what’s best for Dede and make maximum effort for him,” she said.

Asked why the government tried to help only after international media had reported on Dede’s condition, Sulistiyowati said: “There’s nothing wrong if we take a look again at this case.

“We actually treated him for more than one year about 10 years ago, despite the fact that we could not cure him, as there was no medication for this disease.”

Gaspari, a dermatologist from the University of Maryland, has said he believes Dede’s growths are a combination of a virus that causes warts and a genetic disorder that means his immune system is too weak to fight them off.

He said he was negotiating with a US pharmaceutical company to provide an ongoing supply of vitamin A, which would hopefully boost Dede’s immune system.

Gaspari’s initial plan was to send the medication to Indonesia, but if that did not work, he has said he would try to get Dede to the United States, which the Health Ministry has reportedly said it would not allow.

Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari lashed out at the Discovery Channel on Sunday, claiming it had exploited Dede, who has been earning a living in Indonesia by appearing on a “freak show.”

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