Heterosexual transmission of HIV raises concerns
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.”