Indonesia’s Looming AIDS Crisis
Image Credit: Seika Natsuki

Indonesia’s Looming AIDS Crisis


Moral outrage is a staple of Indonesian politics, which makes for entertaining—if somewhat predictable—political theatre. So it hasn’t been any surprise to see the majority of Indonesian politicians trying to score easy political points the past couple of weeks by targeting the usual suspects: sex, lies and moral decadence.

Yet while the chattering classes have been consumed by the government’s plan to implement a pornography filter on the ubiquitous Blackberry smart phone, a more insidious threat to Indonesia’s future has been growing.

Indonesia faces a looming AIDS epidemic that could wreck the big economic, political and social gains it has made in recent years. UN figures show Indonesia already has an estimated 300,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers and one of the fastest growing infection rates in Asia. The situation is particularly dire in Papua and West Papua, which have the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate outside of Africa—3 percent of the population is infected with the virus, about 20 times the national average.

But despite the looming crisis, Indonesia’s attitudes to sex are remarkably imprudent. Last year, federal Education Minister Muhammad Nuh objected to creating a formal sex education curriculum, arguing that students will learn about it ‘naturally.’ It’s unsurprising, then, that many Indonesians are unfamiliar with HIV and AIDS.

Data released last year by the Central Statistics Agency illustrate the nation’s uphill battle in promoting awareness—a mere 14.3 percent of Indonesians aged 15-24 had reasonable knowledgeable of HIV, far fewer than the 70 percent needed for the country to reach the Millennium Development Goal on HIV/AIDS.

So far, the problem is entrenched in populations that are isolated geographically and socially, such as sex workers, drug users and homosexuals. A survey conducted by Indonesia’s AIDS Prevention and Control Commission, for example, highlighted the plight of waria (transsexual sex workers), among whom the HIV prevalence rate is 34 percent in Jakarta, 28 percent in Surabaya and 16 percent in Bandung. Yet despite these alarming figures, less than half of those surveyed were using condoms on a regular basis. Indeed, many clients refuse to wear condoms—and many waria, desperate for money, comply.

It’s perhaps not surprising that so many waria feel they have little choice but to sell themselves to try to make ends meet. The Department of Social Affairs classifies the waria as mentally handicapped, which severely hinders their chances of securing regular employment. In addition, the Indonesian government has been reluctant to recognize waria as a distinct category. This means that for many, the sex trade is the only occupation that offers them any semblance of financial security while still allowing them to embrace their identity.

March 25, 2014 at 15:23

Wilfully ignorant! Another way of saying blatantly stupid, and proud of their arrogance.

Teresa Bergen
November 24, 2011 at 09:02

Even if you are the sort of self righteous person who believes you are vastly superior to people who are gay, have addiction problems and/or earn their money via sex, you should realize there are further repercussions. For example, who is patronizing sex workers? In many cases, “upstanding” men of the community who bring diseases home to their innocent wives and future children.

February 4, 2011 at 06:19

In the first place, words do not mean whatever the writer wants them to mean, no matter what the dictionary says. HIV/AIDS is not an epidemic. The transmission of the disease is carried only by the extremely rare methods of sharing blood, or sexual fluids over broken skin. The disease spreads at an extremely low rate, over generations, and is of no importance whatsoever to the human species. The writer’s allegations that the incidence of HIV/AIDS affects the labor force, community morale, and population growth are plainly bizarre. Drug addicts, prostitutes, and homosexuals are not what springs to most peoples’ minds when they think of a nation’s labor force. Community morale is a trivial consideration, best summed up by the expression, ‘Shit happens’. Above all, high population growth is a major crisis in the undeveloped regions where HIV/AIDS is prevalent. The disease is helping to reduce the excessive growth in those regions; it is not a hinderance. The worst fatal disease in the world is diarrhea, with a yearly death rate almost double that of HIV/AIDS, in the same regions of the planet. The global combination of the common flu and malaria is a far higher annual fatality rate than that of HIV/AIDS.

Second, the writer appears unaware that a very high percentage of people in the world strongly disagree with her liberal views. Many people are overjoyed to see homosexuals, prostitutes and drug addicts die as a consequence they inflict on themselves by their own aberrant and abhorrent actions. People who have morals, ethics, any standards of human behavior, and any human conscience believe the punishment is very appropriate to the offense. This very high percentage of the human population of the planet, possibly 50 percent, or half the people in the world, are not indifferent to the fate of prostitutes, homesexuals and drug addicts, they are not ignoring the subject of HIV/AIDS or pretending it doesn’t exist; they are very glad to see the people who give themselves the disease by their own free choice receive the punishment they deserve. Simply because the writer disagrees with them doesn’t make them wrong, a fact the writer excludes entirely from her report, resulting in severely biased journalism.

Finally, an organization that receives funding from a government is obviously NOT a nongovernmental organization, or NGO. It may be an arm’s-length agency of a government, but it is still an agency of some government. A reporter cannot claim that NGOs are underfunded merely because they don’t receive money from governments. They are underfunded because they don’t receive sufficient donations from the general public. Possibly because many, if not most of the general public don’t support the goals of the NGO, and don’t want to give them money to pass on to drug addicts, homosexuals, and prostitutes, to reduce a so-called epidemic affecting approximately 0.14 percent of the population.

Sexually Transmitted Indiscretion
March 2, 2014 at 13:42

You completely missed the point. It is the housewives that are unknowingly being infected by the indiscretions of their husbands. In PNG, the population largely believes HIV/AIDS to be the result of witchcraft and counter-tribal curses. So in the process of your moralising as to who deserves to be burnt at the stake, it is the collateral damage inflicted by inadvertent/ intentional infection that will haunt the ineffectual administrations of the respective jurisdictions. Therefore the sex tourists of the west that proliferate in South East Asia, are sowing the seeds of destruction by commodifying the locals and unwittingly taking back to their beloveds a death sentence because of their perverse morality, believing that a course of penicillin is the necessary remedy.

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