Thursday, December 01, 2005

Another terror for Indonesia to fight

TODAY, Singapore

Misconceptions about the disease, lack of awareness major obstacles

Friday • December 2, 2005

Thang D Nguyen

Of all the places in the world that he could be yesterday for World Aids Day, Mr Peter Piot, the head of UNAids, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids, chose to be in Jakarta, Indonesia.

This is because as South-east Asia's largest country, with the world's fourth-largest population, Indonesia has become "the new frontline of an Aids epidemic", he said.

As of September this year, the Ministry of Health showed that about 8,251 Indonesians have HIV/Aids.

According to experts from both Indonesia and abroad, however, the real figure can be from 90,000 to 250,000.

Whatever the real figure is, the Indonesian government has realised that HIV/Aids is yet another war — like those against terrorism and poverty — it has to fight. As part of its campaign against HIV/Aids, the government has promoted the use of condoms and sterile needles as unsafe sex and needle-sharing are major ways through which Aids is transmitted.

This campaign is not altogether successful, however. The use of condoms must be accompanied by sex education and public awareness of Aids but many young Indonesians either do not receive sex education or receive it too late.

According to a Durex-sponsored global sex survey this year, Indonesians start to receive sex education at 14.4 years of age, compared to a global average of 13.2 years. The poll also shows that 40 per cent of Indonesians have unsafe sex without knowing their partners' sexual history.

Second, many Indonesians don't use condoms because their leaders — religious or otherwise — advise them not to do so.

Take Mr Adhyaksa Dault, Indonesia's State Minister for Youth and Sports Affairs, for example.

"I don't agree that we should promote condom use as a way of preventing HIV/Aids. That's not the way. It's more about how to steer our young people away from promiscuity," he was quoted by Antara as saying.

Messages like this are counterproductive to Indonesia's campaign against Aids. If anything, they beget a myth that sex with different partners — promiscuity — is the root cause of Aids and that monogamy can prevent it.

What if one of the spouses in a polygamous marriage, which is allowed under Islamic law, happens to be HIV-positive and transmits the virus to other partners through unprotected sex? And what happens to people who have unsafe sex with different partners? Do they all get Aids?

To be sure, the use of condoms doesn't guarantee absolute protection from Aids, but they are the most effective and affordable tool for prevention available now.

Third, Aids victims are stigmatised in Indonesia, making the fight against Aids difficult. Aids victims dare not speak out and educate others about the disease, its causes, and how to protect themselves against it.

If Indonesia is to make progress in its campaign against HIV/Aids, everyone must be involved. This includes not only the medical authorities, international and local non-governmental organisations, and the government, but also parents, teachers, religious and community leaders and Aids activists, including gays.

As there is no cure for Aids yet, the best cure we have is to prevent it. And Indonesia will do better in its campaign against HIV/Aids by providing more education on Aids and sex; correcting the misperceptions (or myths) Indonesian leaders and citizens have of Aids; and stopping the stigmatisation of its victims.

Otherwise, the campaign will be in vain.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist. His writing can be read at


Anonymous Lee Quinby said...

Hi Thang, this was an important column, to say the least, and I'm glad you confronted the issues so boldly and clearly. I'm glad to be on the mailing list!

Best, Lee

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Susie Ellis said...

Excellent article. Thanks!

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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7:40 PM  

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