Ignorance, prejudice and religious taboos are combining to challenge Indonesia’s efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.
The number of HIV cases is this country of 240 million people is rising. Statistics on the number of people infected range
from 70,000 to 300,000 but whatever the number, officials say it is just the tip of the iceberg.
The government’s condom use campaign is in limbo, thanks to religious and moral crusaders who vigorously oppose efforts
to promote safe sex. The national family planning agency once ran a high-profile condom use program, even installing condom
vending machines in key areas but it had to pull back when its initiatives were met with resistance and its offices attacked.
Taboos are just part of the problem. Authorities also need to address the paranoia surrounding HIV/AIDS. The Jakarta Globe reports the case of a lawmaker in Bali, who blames the spread of the disease on the increase of cafes on the island. “Cafes have spread into remote villages on the island. The condition is worrying because of the high spread of HIV and AIDS,” it quotes an official of the Bali Representative Council as saying.
In the capital, Jakarta, a school caused a stir when it refused to admit a six-year-old girl because her father is HIV-positive. The Jakarta Globe said the school demanded that the student undergo testing to see if she has been infected. Ironically, this happened on World AIDS Day. The school apologized for its action a few days later and said it was done out of ignorance. The child’s father accepted the apology and said what is important is for children not to fall victim to prejudice and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.