With head in the sand, Indonesia struggles to tackle AIDS

Tue Apr 12, 2011 3:58am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Tan Ee Lyn and Fitri Wulandari

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Financial troubles drove Liana into prostitution almost four years ago, but the 30-year-old ex-accountant said she'd had no idea then that unprotected sex could give her HIV/AIDS, a disease she now has to live with.

Liana, who holds an economics degree, is one of 300,000 Indonesians in the world's most populous Muslim nation who have fallen victim to widespread ignorance about AIDS, and the government's inability to campaign effectively against it for fear of being accused by conservatives of promoting promiscuity.

Social taboos and strict laws that ban prostitution also work against those most vulnerable to the incurable disease, because police often use condoms -- one of the best protection against AIDS -- as evidence against sex workers.

Although HIV prevalence in Indonesia's population is low at 0.2 percent, the government and health experts are worried because the number of newly confirmed cases has more than doubled to 4,158 in the five years to 2010.

"When I started the job, I did not know anything about HIV/AIDS or that condoms can prevent you from getting infected with the disease", said Liana, who quit her job and turned to prostitution after her husband died in 2007 because she needed to pay off a mortgage and support their daughter.

A few months after she started sex work, Liana heard about HIV and tried getting tested. But was turned away two times by healthcare workers, who often do not understand the disease and are afraid of getting infected themselves.

Liana tested positive last year after falling ill and is now on AIDS drugs, which cost her 30,000 Indonesian rupiah ($3.5) a month as they are subsidized. Until today, she doesn't know how she became infected. Her 4-year-old daughter is uninfected.

"Thinking it over, I'm not lacking in education. But how is it that I never heard of this disease nor how to prevent it? Why does the government not spread the information," said Liana, a graduate of an East Java university who now insists all her clients use condoms.   Continued...