12/01/2005, 00.00
INDONESIA - WORLD AIDS DAY
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"Explosive" AIDS growth in Indonesia

by Mathias Hariyadi

There are 200,000 infected people in Indonesia today but the UN has warned numbers are set to rise and the country is on the brink of an epidemic.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The number of people with HIV/AIDS in Indonesia has climbed to 200,000 and experts say the figure is set to grow in the coming years. This was revealed in a statement issued yesterday by the Forum of the Indonesian Medical Doctor Association (IDI). Zubairi Djorban MD, president of the Forum, said sexual intercourse with multiple partners and use of non-sterilized syringes by drug addicts were the most common HIV routes of transmission in the country. UN officials have warned that the country is "on the brink of an AIDS epidemic".

"Public ignorance about the disease and ways of transmitting the virus has contributed to the increase in the number of patients," says Dr Djorban. "The number is feared to rise." The doctor added that "raising awareness among the population and boosting moral values are urgent priorities, as is discussion about the deadly virus."

His concerns were echoed by a UN official who is in Jakarta for a meeting with the Indonesian Welfare Minister, Alwi Shihab. On 28 November, Peter Piot of UNAIDS (United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) said Indonesia is "on the brink of an epidemic" and must act fast to contain the spread of the disease. Piot said the increase in HIV and AIDS cases in recent years is largely down to widespread use of all kinds of drugs among very young people, to prevalent prostitution and to premarital and extramarital sex. The UN official recognized Jakarta's success in achieving good national coordination but at the same time he urged the government to "to take stronger initiatives and to invest more in the fight against AIDS". Today, the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will not participate in the ceremony marking the 18th "World AIDS Day" because he will preside over the inauguration of an energy station instead.

According to a report about the AIDS epidemic published recently by the UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), in Asia alone, the number of infected people rose by 1.1 million in 2005, bringing the total number of infections in the continent to 8.3 million. Piot recalled that today "out of every five people infected by the virus, one lives in Asia"; 10 years ago, the ratio was one in every 10. Minister Shihab said large cities most at risk of HIV/AIDS are Jakarta, East Java, West Java, Bali, North Sumatra. The worst-hit zone is Papua province in the far east. Piot said this area accounts for 30% of the national infection rate.

Official sources in the Moluccas said HIV-positive people in this province number 440; out of these, according to Rukiah Marasabessy of the local health authority, 103 people come from domestic environments, for example, they are housewives. The team of the woman doctor has discovered cases of HIV even in the island of Tual, which has a Catholic majority: here, a Thai fisherman found to be infected was repatriated. Among people most at risk in Ambon are prostitutes and drug addicts. Most cities in the Moluccas are known for their night life and the presence of many foreign fisherman who come and go. The director of Ambon's General Hospital, J Manuputty, said three out of 12 people hospitalized with AIDS died in August.

From the moment when the first person infected by the HIV virus was discovered in 1981 until today, AIDS has claimed 25 million victims worldwide. According to the UNAIDS and WHO report, in 2005, 3.1 million people died of AIDS, including 570,000 children; this year, 4.9 million people contracted the HIV virus, pushing the global number of HIV-positive people up to 40.3 million people, the highest ever.

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