Indonesia suffers setback in fight against AIDS

November 26, 2012

INDONESIA – A new report published by the United Nations (UN) shows that Indonesia has suffered a setback in its campaign against HIV/AIDS.

In the report, released in conjunction with the 2012 World AIDS Day, the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) records that the rate of new HIV infections in Indonesia, along with several other countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, increased by more than 25 per cent between 2001 and 2011.

The report also said that in Indonesia HIV-prevention programs for males who have sex with males (MSM) stood at less than 25 per cent, or very low.

The coverage of HIV-prevention programs for commercial sex workers in Indonesia and two other countries, Bangladesh and Pakistan, also reached less than 25 per cent.

The prevalence of the HIV infection among people who use drugs by injection in Indonesia has reached more than 35 per cent.

Responding to the report, Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi said on Wednesday that it was “so embarrassing”.

“Millions of dollars are spent annually on HIV/AIDS programs to curb the spread of the disease in this country. Yet, there is such a low coverage of HIV-prevention programs. I don’t know what mistakes I have made. It [the report] was shocking to me,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

“The World AIDS Day Report 2012” launched by UNAIDS on Tuesday reported some significant progress made in recent years.

The report showed that 25 low- and middle-income countries, half of which are in Africa have achieved more than 50 per cent reduction in the rate of new HIV infections.

“I don’t know what else we can do to try to change the situation,” she said.

Data from the National AIDS Commission (KPA) shows that the prevalence of consistent condom use is still low although it has been associated with lower prevalence of HIV infections and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

“[The consistent use of condoms] among sexual workers reaches only 40 per cent,” KPA chairman Kemal Siregar said.

The 2012 UNAIDS report deals another blow to Nafsiah who assumed her post only five months ago.

Soon after she filled the new position, which was left vacant following the death of then health minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih, Nafsiah enganged in a fierce debate with lawmakers and religious groups accusing her of hatching a plan to distribute free condoms to teenagers.

UNAIDS country coordinator Cho Kah Sin said that Indonesia should not be preoccupied with the numbers presented in the report. The report, he said, outlined statistics which outlined the situation during the 10-year period from 2001 to 2011.

“There is a group of countries in the Asia Pacific region where, by comparing the statistics from baseline data in 2001 to 2011, we see a rise in new HIV infections,” he told The Jakarta Post.

The rise in infections in several countries, including Indonesia, comes from the fact that the rapid increase of infection in the country starts later compared to other countries. Cho added that the situation was also caused by the low coverage of HIV-prevention programs despite good intensions.

UNAIDS predicts that there will be an increase of about 76,000 new HIV infections in Indonesia every year.

“I think this is much more important to realise,” Cho said.

Source: The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

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