Indonesia faces rapidly growing HIV/AIDS problem

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AIDSA recent survey shows Indonesia has the fastest growth rate of HIV infection among Asian countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Saturday. Half of the country's cases are found in the easternmost province of Papua.

The survey found that 2 percent of the Papua population had HIV, 20 times higher than the national average.

WHO said Indonesia recorded 316 new cases of AIDS in 2003. The number increased to 1,195 in 2004 and rocketed to 2,638 in 2005 and 2,873 new cases in 2006.

According to Health Ministry statistics, there were a total of 8,194 AIDS patients and another 5,230 with HIV in the country as of last year. National and international organizations, however, estimate that the number of HIV infections is between 169,000 and 216,000.

"Indonesia is facing a major threat because the country's AIDS epidemic is among the fastest-growing epidemics in Asia," WHO's Bjorn Melgaard said.

Melgaard said the disease was progressing along two paths: a concentrated epidemic among high-risk groups such as injecting drug users and sex workers; and the generalized epidemic that has recently emerged in Papua.

The survey involved WHO, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, and other international agencies as well as local nongovernmental organizations. It was conducted from Feb. 5 to 17 in several regions of the country, including Jakarta, Bali, and Surabaya as well as Banyuwangi in East Java and Singkawang and Pontianak in West Kalimantan.

The survey paid particular attention to Papua, targeting four regencies: Merauke, Wamena, Timika and Jayapura.

"Due to the unique nature of the epidemic and the limited financial, human and technical resources locally available, fundamentally different needs should be addressed in Papua," Melgaard said.

The director general of communicable diseases at Indonesia's Health Ministry, I Nyoman Kandun, said the government had considered a more proactive approach to reach 'untouched' groups in Papua, a huge island with a small population divided among many different tribes and languages.

Meanwhile, Melgaard said Indonesia had shown a strong commitment and done the right things in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He said the programs were not sufficient, however, to fight the rapid epidemic among the country's more than 220 million people.

Melgaard said the challenges Indonesia had to deal with included poor healthcare, blood safety issues and weak prevention programs among high-risk groups, including injecting drug users, sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgendered people.

He said Indonesia should focus on prevention programs, adding that the government could learn from other countries like Thailand that had successfully curbed the growth of the epidemic.

source The jakart Post