Het­ero­sex­ual trans­mis­sion of HIV raises con­cerns

The Jakarta Post - - ARCHIPELAGO - Djemi Am­nifu and Agus Mary­ono

With the changing pat­tern of HIV, which is trans­mit­ting at a more rapid rate to the het­ero­sex­ual part­ners of in­fected men, coun­selling and test­ing have be­come the back­bone of gov­ern­ment pro­grams to pre­vent the spread of the deadly in­fec­tious dis­ease.

Un­for­tu­nately, many In­done­sians are still re­luc­tant to un­dergo vol­un­tary HIV coun­selling and test­ing (VCT).

“Many peo­ple in our so­ci­ety are un­will­ing or are afraid to check whether they have the dis­ease,” said Hu­sein Pan­car­tius, sec­re­tary for the Na­tional AIDS Com­mis­sion’s (KPA) East Nusa Teng­gara (NTT) chap­ter.

He said that thou­sands of peo­ple liv­ing in 22 re­gen­cies and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across the prov­ince’s seven is­lands — Alor, Flores, Lem­bata, Rote, Sabu, Sumba and Ti­mor — had tested pos­i­tive for HIV and AIDS.

“As of Au­gust, the num­ber of peo­ple in­fected with HIV and AIDS has reached 5,000,” said Hu­sein, cit­ing NTT Health Agency data.

The fig­ure is a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease from the agency’s Fe­bru­ary data, which re­vealed a to­tal of 3,700 in­fected peo­ple.

“The dis­eases have spread both in terms of lo­ca­tion — in­fect­ing even peo­ple liv­ing in re­mote ar­eas — and age groups, with peo­ple of all ages and across pro­fes­sions get­ting in­fected,” said Hu­sein.

Most HIV and AIDS in­fec­tions are trans­mit­ted via het­ero­sex­ual in­ter­course, he went on.

“The ac­tual num­ber of in­fected peo­ple is likely higher. This is like the tip of the ice­berg and has trig­gered con­cern among peo­ple in this re­gion,” he said.

In Cilacap, Cen­tral Java, at least 300 house­wives have tested pos­i­tive in the Jan­uary-Au­gust pe­riod. They ac­count for 30 per­cent of the to­tal 960 peo­ple in the re­gency found to have HIV or AIDS.

Cilacap Re­gent Tatto Suwarto Pa­muji said the women had been in­fected by their own hus­bands, show­ing a shift in the pop­u­la­tion of those most af­fected by the dis­eases, which have en­tered the do­mes­tic sphere. Pre­vi­ous high-risk groups in­cluded drug users, sex work­ers and ho­mo­sex­ual men.

“The HIV and AIDS epi­demic is get­ting alarm­ing. Data shows that HIV and AIDS cases have con­tin­ued to ex­pand both in terms of their num­ber and pop­u­la­tions ex­posed to the in­fec­tions,” Tatto said re­cently.

Cilacap Re­gional Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal (RSUD) VCT man­ager Ru­bino Sri­aji said 30 new HIV cases are de­tected ev­ery month, or one per day.

“In Jan­uary alone, we found 47 new HIV cases, and in the fol­low­ing months, we con­tin­ued to find new cases. It’s alarm­ing,” Ru­bino said. “We have 960 peo­ple who tested pos­i­tive for HIV/AIDS but there may ac­tu­ally be around 2,300 be­cause many peo­ple don’t know that they are in­fected, or they do know and are afraid to re­port it.”

Be­hav­ioral changes are key to HIV pre­ven­tion, ac­cord­ing to both Tatto and Ru­bino. In­stead of wait­ing for symp­toms to show be­fore get­ting tested, peo­ple are en­cour­aged to get vol­un­tary HIV coun­selling and test­ing.

Hu­sein said the KPA’s NTT of­fice had called on res­i­dents to get tested. “I have chal­lenged them to be brave. We are ready to fa­cil­i­tate them and the ex­am­i­na­tion will be free of charge,” he said.

Tatto pointed out that the gov­ern­ment had through its HIV and AIDS Con­trol Strat­egy tar­geted to ac­com­plish the “Three Zeros” by 2030, mean­ing that In­done­sia will have “no new HIV cases, no deaths caused by HIV and no stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion against peo­ple liv­ing with HIV and AIDS.”

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